~ glossary of musical terms ~

~ labeling the theory ~

~ letters M to Z / A - L ~


This glossary works to aquaint the reader to our musical and theoretical terms. Please be forewarned that in our own Americana and even to a certain extent with our Euro bretheren and its centuries long history of musical studies, that any one term can have various shades of meanings, all depending on where we might find them in the literature or use them when speaking about theories. For example, explore the term 'downbeat' by clicking the link to the right, read and explore a bit what is there and then click on new links provided for additional meanings and ideas with the word downbeat.

For the emerging theorist reading here, this one aspect of multiple nuances of meaning and word use can upset the 'applecart' of theory discussions. Just try to be flexible, skip over any learning blocks for now and be confident in knowing that many of our music vocabulary words can have its own range of meanings and slang versions too. Never know, a few choices just might be handy in getting our ideas across to other artists as we travel through this musical sojourn of sorts :)

So in knowing this out front here just try to be flexible along the way. When you bump into this situation be curious. The 'I thought downbeat meant ___ .' Well it does, but there's finer shades of it to consider too. And then of course there's the slang terms, such as when we use 'downbeat' to describe what time the band 'hits' ? Exactly :) Don't be late for the gig !

All core theory definitions below are from one of the following sources; paraphrased from and referenced to the Harvard Brief Dictonary Of Music (HBDM). When definitions are derived from Wikipedia they are linked there for descriptions (wiki). Slang terms and artistic concepts are defined by the author and contain the symbol (S) to designate and differentiate these entries from the Harvard derived definitions or Wiki. Anything left over I probably made up along the way.

Imagination is more important than intellect.

wiki ~ Albert Einstein


Magic. The idea of 'working the magic' is is really all about conjuring our muse into making some music. For even if we just pick up our guitars and strum and hum along, music's big three elements of melody, chords and time often combine in a new way for us. What's are mood becomes our mode. The more we purposely shape these three we can increase our potential for working the magic to happen.

When share our music we gain the additional magic sent our way by the folks who get to hear us. The give and take the ebb and flow of the energies that bind us through the stories. our listerners, dancers and in a some sense of time simply that I believe music is a magical thing and for those thus smitten, never stops amazing us, or how it motorizes and enthralls the dancers, listeners and especially little children, who truely absorb and clearly express the wonderment of all things musical. The phrase "working the magic" goes way back for Jacmuse for as a kid, there still was a lot of magic in the world and things I did not yet quite comprehend were often described as magic. Later on this became making music, everybody says it.

mailbox money

Money that used to come in the mail for sale of owned merch, copywrite, authorshipr, royalties etc.


The flexibility of metal, or really any substance, thought or idea, to be upon considerations reshaped by whatever means into new art dimensions.

major groups of pitches

Simply a listing of the groups of pitches that feature a major third interval from the root.

major scale

The group of pitches that creates the major tonality, also known as the Ionian mode, one of two basic groups of pitches used to organize and layout the pitches of the system equal temperament on standard keyboard instruments.

major scale evolutions

The group of pitches that creates the major tonality, also known as the Ionian mode, one of two basic groups of pitches used to organize and layout the pitches of the system equal temperament on standard keyboard instruments.

major tonality, major tonal environment

The brighter side our our yin / yang balance, describes songs written in a major key, the color of music that is based upon the major triad, major scale, Ionian mode etc.

major triad / chord

Usually refers to the three note triad with a major third, the triad built on the first, fourth or fifth scale degrees of the major scale.

making the changes

Slang for when an emerging artist / soloist clearly articulates the harmony ( changes ) in their lines. In Essentials, the basic designation for improv theory is to create lines 'over or through' the changes. In making the changes, we're getting through to the point where we can hear the changes in the line :)


Meaning 'by the hands', the term is applied in modern times to the whole mechanism of the black and white keys on our various keyboard instruments.

master of disguise

Describes a player who creates different illusions of the storyline of a song while somehow retaining the emotional essence of its central theme, the opposite perspective from and the flip side of "master of the obvious."

master of the obvious

Describes music where an experienced listener can accurately guess where the music is going and going to go.

mean tone tuning

A system of tuning predating the acceptance of equal temper whereby 5ths are tuned smaller than perfect so as to compensate for the syntonic comma of Pythagoras.

measure / bar

A word to describe a measure of length in our music, in both actual time depending on tempo and as a way to notate our music with written symbols.

measure numbers

A counting number applied to each measure within a piece written music to help locate one's place.


Chord built on the third scale degree of the major / relative minor scale.


Now also an adjective, medieval taditionally describes a historical period of Europe.

melisma / melismatic

A vocal musical technique whereby one word or syllable receives many pitches.

melodic filter

A term used to describe running a melodic cell or motif through the intervals of a particular melodic color, chord progressions or musical form of a song; such as the 12 bar blues.

melodic minor scale

A group of pitches creating an overall minor tonality distinguished by including a minor third, major sixth and major seventh above the root. In Essentials, we examine the pitch by pitch evolution from natural minor back back to major. While not overly popular as a parent scale for composition, it finds into way into tons of classical music from J.S. Bach onward and is a imprortant color on the advancing jazz improvisor's palette.

melodic motions

In this entry, melodic motions is used to describe the way classical musical theory describes the various ways the pitches resolve as the music moves along. Tension and resolution plays a role as do the intervals involved with the pitches as they resolve or not, as the case may be, as the song moves along. In our Americana musics, we mostly measure and label pitches as some degree of 'suspension.'

melodic substitution

Superimposing different parent scales, often based on chord substitutions.


A series of musical tones that expresses an emotional thought?

Mersenne, Marin

Thought to be the first European to suggest that the solution of the '12th root of 2' provides the numerical factor for dividing the octave interval in the 12 equal parts of equal temper tuning in 1637.

metal anthems

simply the songs and their hooks that are the anthems for this genre; such as the early 'Iron Man.'


Metronome. Jamm along device for practice which creates consistent clicks to represent the beats of musical time in real time, adjustable rates from fast (allegro) through slow (largo). Often designated with 'm.m = #' in musical scores. Electric 2 and 4 time generator.

An easy way to put any music we are shedding into a performance perspective is to practice it in time; real musical beat time as can be provided many ways today or the old fashioned way with a metronome. Early models were wind-up, like clocks.

metronome marking

A metronome marking is a written symbol added to sheet music to indicate the tempo, how fast or slow, the song should go. Using combined letters and numbers, it lives above the clef above the first staff. There's two common ways it'll often be represented in written music. One is the 'm.m. = 100' as shown to the right. The other is as shown in the following illustration.

With this marking we'd set our metronomes to 110, so we'd have 110 quarter note clicks per minute. More math and music, got to love the theory scientist :)


In this music discussion, a pile of detritus material of pine cone leaves and pieces created by squirrels from munching the seeds of their pine cones, it's an Alaskan thing we look for when out and about.

middle C

The term middle 'C' is normally associated with the piano and translates to guitar for reading and writing purposes as the 'C' note located on the sixth string / 8th fret or the fifth string / 3rd fret. Due to the transpositional nature of writing for guitar, our guitar's 'middle C' is pitched one octave above the piano's. We do this simply to ease the writing of the music in treble cleff.

To find middle 'C' at the piano, place the left hand all the way to the left and the right all the way to the right, bend face towards keyboard and the closest 'C' to your nose is probably middle 'C' :)

Piano keys; 'C' is alwats to the left of the two paired up black keys.

middle eight

The 'middle eight' is an eight bar phrase in the middle of a song, it most often provides a counter melody and thematic material to contrast or enhance the song's original idea, in the 32 bar / A A B A form, the 'B' section is the 'middle eight.'

middle register

The center pitches of the overall range of a musical instrument, usually consisting of the pitches with the span of a major 10th.


MIDI. Empowered by a couple of hundred years of a glorius and so varied catalogue of music, all written in equal temper tuning, a next natural evolution, through more math calculations and powered with electricity, has digitized the frequencies of equal temper tuning into midi data thus able to be processed by computors. So now we still get the full palette of musical colors but with the push of a button i.e., a midi piano, we can do it with any recordable sound available. Often called a 'patch', modern MIDI devices can pull up any number of 100's or even 1000's of different patches that have different musical colors which to play with. And while the transfer from guitar strings to the 'x's and 'o's of electronics has been a challenge, I know I've heard artists that have found workarounds and created some incredible art; from horn lines in R&B to string sections in pop, searing blues lines with unlimited sustain to taking a 'vibes' solo with an archtop guitar. While pricey for some of the gear, nice to have an orchestra of sorts at our fingertips :)


A term to describe 1000 years of earth time.


Minor is one of the two main settings we find in our music. The other is major. These are our two main key centers and we pair them up into being 'relatives.' Minor ranges from a bluesy, somber feel of laid back melancholy to the clash of titans that can only end one way. The minor 3rd determines the overall color as the other common groupings push beyond its natural diatonic boundaries and create an evolution of pitches to major. Arpeggios will do this also as illustrated by the #15 concepts.

minor scales ~ minor groups of pitches

Simply a listing of the groups of pitches that feature a minor third.


minor seventh

The interval between two pitches of a minor 7th, a minor triad with a minor 7th, a tonic 7th chord in the natural minor tonality and a Two chord type in the major tonality.

minor third

The interval between two pitches of a minor 3rd, three half steps, a whole step + a half step, the quality of third in a minor triad, the 'blue' third.

minor triad

Comprised three pitches; root, minor 3rd and perfect 5th.

minor tonality, minor tonal environment

Describes the color of music that is core based upon the pitches of the minor triad.


The combined blend of all the instruments in the group when sounded together, often concerned with setting volumes, tones and such things as the e.q.'s, and reverbs in an electronic setting as through a p.a. etc.

modal blues

A blues performance format or song whereby the performance is basically a four bar phrase based on the tonic V 7th chord, not following the traditional 12 bar blues form.


A term we use in a similar way to scale, a closed loop or group of pitches to compose with. Today, the term finds common use from the 'church modes' from wayback. This next chart highlights the half steps locations of the seven church modes as found within the C Ionian group, i.e., C major scale.

Ionian mode formula
1 / 2
1 / 2
Dorian mode formula
1 / 2
1 / 2


Phyrgian mode formula
1 / 2
1 / 2


Locrian mode formula
1 / 2
1 / 2


Mixolydian mode formula
1 / 2
1 / 2


Aeolian mode formula

1 / 2
1 / 2


Locrian mode formula
1 / 2
1 / 2


Ionian mode formula
1 / 2
1 / 2


Used mostly as 'modern sounding', and generally implies a historical idea or, that the musical components used to create the music are well advanced into the upper structure piches of the arpeggio, polytonal sounds and the chromatic buzz of V7.

modern Americana

Here within Essentials the idea of a modern Americana simply implies any of our roots musics that have been filtered through any measurte of Rock and Roll. Interesting is the idea perhaps that nowadays, any of our roots musics not filtered through Rock become in a sense "old timey."

modern guitarist

In this work, a modern guitarist is one who decides to try and use standard music theory principles to understand and evolve, to modernize, their own work. A modern guitarist also understands and pursues the intellectual and artistic ability to reshape the common, shared definable musical components so as to create the varied styles and cross-overs of the Americana music we love.

This idea of a modern guitarist is a blend of two ideas concerning melody and harmony. In melody, we simply use the theory to understand the relationship between musical style and number of pitches. That as we add new pitches into the five pitch pentatonic core groupings, we begin to sense our styles evolving from the traditional children's and folk songs towards the blues and country and into rock then pop and on to jazz.

The harmony idea is provided by saxophonist John Coltrane's path of ascension through the theory. By historically following the harmony developments within Mr. Coltrane's compositions through his career, we can clearly follow his pathway of ascension; through diatonic theory and into the 12 tone sphere. While all is originally based in the blues, the gradually expanding perfect fourth motion of the Two / Five cadence, that is later filtered by minor thirds and then major thirds, helps cover all of the basics explored through the Coltrane compositions.

Understanding these evolutions also becomes a solid curriculum for the shedding we do to 'hone our craft.' We can get on and off this pathway of shedding at any juncture throughout our own careers, as our lives, needs and times permit. At stopping points all along this pathway of evolutions, we can discover solutions to help us to collaborate with artists in the varied genres of Americana. And while we might not yet be able to contribute in a musical way, we'll have a basis to understand what we're hearing and then Amigo, it's back to the shed if we end up needing those skills.

modern jazz

There has always been a modern jazz. Modern jazz is simply the next generation of players who advance what they are bequethed musically. When the term jazz was first coined and Scott Joplin and Eubie Blake came along, they were modern jazz cats. Then a younger Buddy Bolden and King Joe Oliver come along and modernize jazz, innovative players in perspective to the existing music of their times.

Then Mr. Oliver's protege Louis Armstrong with his new swing in the 20's, then Benny Goodman and guitarist Charlie Christian and their handling of the diminished colors followed by the arpeggio wizards Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie and their bebop, exhausting a combined diatonic environment and the blues at blistering tempos to became the new moderne of the 40's. Then there's Miles Davis and Bill Evans with modal and the cool becomes the modern sound of the 50's, followed by John Coltrane's 'sheets of sounds' and onto "Giant Steps", a re-invented harmonic scheme that now becomes a song form that adds a new diminsion to a modern players core musical challenges.

In the 60's Dave Brubeck, Paul Desmond and Chet Baker help return us to a timeless lyricism of tones and tone over newly imported rhythms, some of which include the more pop styled bossa nova sounds of Antonio Jobim, whose rhythms become the basis of the modern, Latin influences we cherished all along that dominate the radio bandwith today all to the dancers delight. Art Blakey leads the "jazz messengers' which include up and coming younger players that bring the new as hard bop, gospel and the blues.

Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, Tony Williams and Wayne Shorter with Miles Davis set in a new modern era of composing, codefying the modern chromaticism with new ways to swing. Then saxophonist Ornette Coleman leads the early free players, including Pat Metheny and Jaco Pastorius, new moderns creating a sound that captures individual freedom to collectively explore and compose in real time encompassing our entire musical history. Then a return to our New Orleans roots and musics with Wynton Marsalis, who combines most if not all of the above potentials with the European classical music that has been a root of our Americana family tree all along.

We've today all of this history, our musical ancestors and their music to challenge us to become modern jazz players of today, or not as we each evolve, but collectively encourage us to have the courage to leave no musical Americana stone unturned in the pursuit of modern art and its help in shaping and recording for posterity the lives, times and social and physical worlds in which we each create and live within.

There's a theory evolution in all of this, dillineated by historical era; from diatonic to non-diatonic, from tonal to atonal, from inside to outside, from age old traditional cycles evolving into new symmetrical patterns of pitch, that bring forth new untapped energies for creating the new music of today, to tell and share our modern stories and help create and insure a better world for those to come after, ah ... the life, times, evolutions and exciting pursuits of the artist modernistas of today :)

modern today

Modern today is simply the moment that you are reading these words. Simply used as a historical marker, gives us a point in time to reference from which all other times in history are often triangulated from.


Describes the idealistic core of this opus; that by knowing the theory of music we might better enable ourselves to continually modernize our art throughout the span of our carrers, if we choose to do so.

That as we evolve over the decades we will look for greater artistic challenges, which translate into more complex theoretical challenges. Same natural evolutions and pro development in any discipline.

Thus, a folk player adds blue notes, goes electric through Muddy and and and then discovers bebop jazz, where single line, extended arepeggios often rule the day. A far horizon in mind and chops from open folk chords in the grand scheme of things :)

modulate (ion)

Modulation. To change keys, tonal centers or emotional environments. We use modulation to go to a new diatonic center somewhere in the music. If in our story to tell we go somewhere by travel, by thought or by heart, we can sound this out by going to somewhere from our original tonal starting point through modulation in the music. There are many different types of, degrees of, ways to and destinations to go through modulation.

In some of our styles, in a song's diatonic chord progression becomes the way it goes somewhere else in the song. Moving to the relative minor from major, or vice versa, is most common. We can easily hint to be moving from our diatonic center by borrowing pitches from other keys. This becomes our first level of expanding from the core diatonic motions.

We also can play our melody in one key, modulate and play the same line in a new key. Very common in the older classical music. Repetition of one idea through modulating through a series of tonal centers or building an idea into an existing musical form to compose a song are fairly common ways to modulate which have produced some big hits over the decades; 12 bar blues, rhythm changes, AABA etc. We can go further here and link two different songs together, to segue, which perhaps is the ultimate modulation in telling our stories. Modulation, although not generally used this way, is what happens when hipsters filter or shed one idea through the 12 key centers as arranged by the cycle of fifths.

mojo juice

just something we get as we strengthen in our musics over the years and dig deeper into all of life's doings that shape our art.

mon ami

French for "my friend."



Greek; mono = one, chord = string, a one stringed instrument thought to be designed for the investigation of acoustics, with one movable fret.



Music that is created with one melody line with no additional accompaniment, i.e., chords or harmony, it is said to be our oldest form of music. HBD.


One theme, artistic creations with one theme. Like a song with one melody? Or a theme park with just one ride, that you want to keep going on again and again, i.e., like the blues? Mono = one.


Slang for a musician with tremendous musical abilities.


Spanish for 'from the mountain', in music generally associated with a repeated musical phrase commonly called a vamp among we Americanos.


Used within this text to describe a change of tonality, i.e., major to minor, tonic family to dominant family etc.

motif / motive

A re-occurring artistic idea which is developed throughout an artistic piece.

motion to Four

In all of American styles, the harmonic motion from our tonic One chord to Four is probably the most common. Everything from 'Oh Susanna' through the blues and into country, rock pop and jazz all enjoy this motion to the subdominant. Being so popular, there's probably a million or so ways to get there.


Style of American pop music from the 1960's, the Supremes, Smokey Robinson, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder on and on. Motown from motorcity perhaps?, is slang for the city of Detroit, Michigan.

movable shapes / forms

Usually applied to guitar, where a scale, arpeggio or chord shape can be moved intact up and down the fingerboard. This one idea can greatly facilitate the learning. For example, one root position movable chord becomes many differently rooted chords, simply by its position on the neck. One 'C' major 7' shape now works in all 12 major or minor keys :)


Articulating two pitches simultaneously, used usually to describe an effect with horn players; saxophone mostly but trumpet too.

musical map

Every picture tells a story don't it ...

music notation

The musical notation symbols used here in Essentials, that we use to write down our musical ideas to share with others, that have preserved the music that has come before us and will make available all of our collective music for future generations has been in use now for the last 1000 years or so.

music software

The music software to create the musical examples in this text is created by Coda Corporation, it is Finale 2010, which is very excellent indeed.


music store

Here's a view of my local music store with no shortage of gear for guitar. Look vaguely familiar?

Mammoth Music

music theorist

In entering into the machinations of music and its theories we join a rather august club of musicians and scientists from the last three millenia or so. From the early establishment of the octave interval as the bookends to our pitches, .

music theory

Music theory is simply a body of knowledge that creates a unique label for each the components of our musics. This becomes the vocabulary we thorists use to describe what we hear. First, there's the identity of the components and events in a song as we listen to music; the pitches and the melodies and harmonies they create moving along in time. And there's the silent architecture we do not hear when listening but which shapes and forms the music into the art we love.

musical alphabet

Our musical alphabet runs from the letter A to G; so A B C D E F G.

musical evolution

The continual quest by artists to expand the existing musical forms and resources so as to better portray the evolving triumphs, struggles and philosophies of humankind.

musical examples

With the ability to notate and playback, the theory game has really changed for the non reading players to explore the more schooled world of music theory and how they understand their own music.

musical intervals

Measuring and labeling the distance between two pitches as defined by the number of whole steps and half steps between them.

musical language

In this text simply the idea that we each strive to learn how to create the sounds of the style of music we want to play, these sounds become your language elements for conversing with your musical bro's when jamming :)

musical math

That the numerical equivalents given to the pitches also perfectly close upon themselves or 'proof' themselves by perfectly closing back to their starting point.

musical styles / evolution

Here in Essentials, America's myriad of aural musical sounds / style combinations are from a two stranded helix core, just like our own DNA. One strand of our evolution starts pure diatonic; with children's songs which moves into folk, then towards to country and then to the brighter tempos of bluegrass.

At this point we need to go back to our roots for the other strand of DNA for the blues; the blue notes, V7 chord and the 12 bar form. For in the blues we get the blues both as a style itself in addition to its blue hue shadings. Surely all styles rub another and things stick, but the blue colors are perhaps even quite alone, the essence of the Americana experience.

In songs of gospel, country and rock and roll, whose beats and messages softens up a bit into pop, and then to fully open up into the jazz world, this double stand of diatonic and the blues is the twist of pitches and colors that make it happen.

A second theme of this work in regards to our musical styles is the '# of pitches / style relationship.' That given our 12, how many we use to create a melody will often help us understand were we are along our 'style spectrum' of Americana. That is if we do choose to do so.

musical styles

Musical styles. Surely a topic of endless nuance we can take an almost pure theory approach based on which pitches we use in creating our musical styles. The trick to layering musical styles into the theory discussions is simply to be flexible and really just to take a bit of the 'e' out of ego and go.

The 'e' out of ego ... simply implies that many of the styles that music critics can easily identify are merged here in Essentials, simply because they have the same core pitches as their basis. For example in rock music, all stems from its historical core of the 1950's and while much has changed in the business since, the core pitches are theoretically the same. The exception here is of course in with metalists, whose chords are reduced to just 5th's because of the gear generally used to work the magic.

The idea that the storytelling folk styles, which can include everything from children's songs, all kinds of country, western, swing, fiddle tunes, Irish and bluegrass, is based on the idea that their core groupings of pitches for creating their melodies and chord harmonies are so similar. So much of the variance here can be attributed to the theme of story being told, rhythms and tempos, groove and influence of the blue notes.

For jazz players, it's generally all about how thin we want to slice the pitch pie as we head towards a more chromatic sound and chord progressions, as they evolve historically through the decades of the last millenium or so. From open G ragtime banjo to standard concert tuned E Delta blues into swing jazz towards bebop into the hard bop and post bop towards the fusion becoming new age and easy listening into today's super sliced chromaticism, we can evolve our core 12 pitches with groove, chord progression, choice of color tones etc., on into what sound concept we develop to finding the gear to process our signals.

So if your main style is not consistently one of the most common headings, forgive me for it's a tricky bit of business trying to put into words and musical examples ideas correlating numbers of pitches and the range of styles they love to create, looking for songs within styles to navigate all of this in a conversational tone reminiscent of the olden day theory books all while maintaining a perspective and forward motion in the dialogue.That all said ... whew, I hope that some part of Essentials moves your theory thing forward :)

musical tonality

Years ago a discussion centered on the evolution of American versus European music in regards to what we as jazz artists call 'inside and outside.' Inside is music created with pitches from within the keycenter, outside is not. This gradual evolution took American players roughly 75 years to accomplish while it took our Euro brothers about 300 years. Perhaps this gives us some sense of the pace of America's own evolution through the last century or so.


A musicologist is the scholar of a music's history as within the context of the society in which it is created. Whatever you favorite music is today, just to realize that your interest can become an entry way into a lifetime of endless coolness of discovery, and for the musicologist, in the sharing of something you just naturally love with all who will lend an ear :)


The term musicology simply implies the scholary study of music; its histories, the players, the compositions, the times in which it was created and what influence one generation has had on succeeding ones thus perhaps the ones yet to come along. An endless puzzle of sorts, we who are interested must simply dive in and start to piece it all together the best we can, prompted by whatever our interests in the music might be. For some thankfully, there's really just no end to it.


A term that encompasses all of the things that enable us to communicate musically. All things being equal, good listening skills and performing with a wide range of dynamics are two essential cores of our ability to communicate musically.


Lettered pitches identified without sharps or flats are said to be natural, also a symbol that cancels a sharp or flat from a note, key signature etc.

sharp / flat / natural

natural scale

Natural scale. In today's world of equal temper tuning and the perfection of midi, we could generally consider the natural scale as any basic intonation of the seven pitches of the diatonic scale that is not equal tempered. The natural scale is generally created from the naturally occurring harmonic series, or the ratios of small whole numbers as in Just intonation, or building all the pitches from two ratios 2:1 (octave) and 3:2 (perfect 5th) of Pythagorean tuning. In a natural tuning, these pitches and scales are not equal tempered in any way. Many artists will search for these pitches in their work, especially when working within the equal tempered harmony as created by a piano or the various keyboard instruments of today. In this work, this differing of intonations combine to create the 'blues rub.'

natural major scale ratio natural minor scale ratio
root 1 : 1 root 1 : 1
major 2nd 9 : 8 major 2nd 9 : 8
. . minor 3rd 6 : 5
major 3rd 5 : 4 . .
perfect 4th 4 : 3 perfect 4th 4 : 3
perfect 5th 3 : 2 perfect 5th 3 : 2
. . minor 6th 8 : 5
major 6th 5 : 3 . .
. . minor 7th 16 : 9
major 7th 15 : 8 . .
perfect octave 2 : 1 perfect octave 2 : 1

natural minor scale

The seven pitch core of the minor tonality, these pitches are thought to go all the way back in our history. As the relative of the natural major group, these are our more modern terms and ways of thinking, for both combine to create the natural scale, whose description and links are next below. Also the Aeolian mode, diatonic major / relative minor, all which share the same pitches, intervals through all 12 keys etc., all part of what we inherit today from antiquity.

nature / nurture

Instinctual or learned, that is the question ...

neighbor tone

Closely related pitches by physical proximity.

n'est-ce pas?

From the French, translated here as 'isn't that so?' Learning music is like learning a new language; once there's some words (vocabulary) then it's all about the phrasing and having something to say (timing).

9 out of 10

Simply the idea that the majority of songs are written in a major key. Being a jazz leaning artist, I counted up and compared the major / minor tonality of the songs in the Charlie Parker Omnibook. Of the 55 compositions in the work, 4 where written in a minor key, this the idea of '9 out of 10.' For in discussing the theory, there are tricky spots that call for perspective from a basis, and the major key, due to its use in creating our melodies, becomes the cornerstone to create various visions of the organization of our pitches. If your thing is in minor, please forgive this bias throughout. For as a writer of this 'understanding your music' book, I needed a basis and as Charlie Parker was once the 'arpeggio king of the local universe', what better Americana composer to help sort this all out.


In analysis of music, defines those pitches that are not part of the tonic parent scale used to create that piece of music, these pitches can be in the melody or harmony.


General term for the symbols we use to write down our music. Notations basics are for pitch and rhythm. Staff lines indicate pitch with note heads while the flags of a note denote its rhythm. We've math here too as our staff lines and spaces help us to measure our intervals.

a note

General term to describe a musical sound or tone, i.e., a pitch, although said pitch is oftened designated by letter such as A B C or D and accidental (if needed).

'a number'

In NYC, a 'numba', slang for a song, usually used in live performances to announce the next selection on the program. Something like ... "right now ... we gonna sing you a little number from our first album ... " etc.

numerical equivalents

Really just a fancy term that gets to a core approach for understanding the theory. Letter names of pitches become numbers within formulas of both melodies and chord progressions that allow us to create and project identical elements of any nature from any of our 12 pitches.

numerical perspective

Creating a numerical perspective of our musical resources is mostly about assigning numbers to letters based on the intervals between pitches. There's a couple of key pairings that streamline the theory allowing for an easier projection of the ideas into our various musics; pitch letters of scales and arpeggios become Arabic numbers, chord letter designations become both Roman numerals and we develop three numerical chord types. What we gain is the ability to apply the same theory principles to any of our 12 major or 12 minor keys and all of our chords can become one of three chord types.

nuts and bolts

The authors slang term for the various components of our music, i.e., the pitches, scales, arpeggios, chords and all of their various symbologies. We get a pile of these nuts and bolts and make musical art.

in a nutshell

The old timey cliche lick about just getting to the heart of a thing. Each full topic discussion in this work starts off with an 'in a nutshell' description of its contents, mostly just a sentence or two, which quickly read, provides the reader with a choice of whether to stay put and read on to study or move on into an expanded use of the theory topic, as each 'nutshell' entry has its own link forward to various evolutions of the theory discussions currently being tabled. The links to the right are hopefully some of the giant nutshells for helping you understand your own music.

the nutshells

The nutshells. The purist of all sounds, the octave interval becomes the initial theory boundry. By a cycle of perfect 5th's our 12 pitches evolve. Later equally tempered into a chromatic scaleof 12 equal pitches, any and all of our scales, blue notes, arpeggios, chords and rhythms can be projected equally from each of these 12 pitches. By simple addition of pitch, our horizontal resource evolves from the ancient pentatonic five to the six of the blues to seven pitches creating the seven modes of the diatonic scale and its perfect balance of major ~ minor energies. We close the loop at eight by doubling the root pitch up an octave, creating the theory basis of closure for the architecture in our musics.

It's the 3rd degree of a scale or three note triad or chord that determines whether it's tonal color is major or minor. We guitarists most often parallel this theory on the piano, whose white keys are the seven diatonic pitches creating the relative C major and A natural minor pairing.

The theory of scale degree creates the seven modal loops by formula, with the location of the 1/2 steps defining each group. Three are major and three are minor, these groupings become the One, Four and Five positions of major and minor within one key center. The remaining loop creates the interval portal to travel between between the major and minor artistic environments balanced within one key center. Number of key centers or borrowing of their pitches and components within one composition helps to place a work along an ever evolving stylistic spectrum of musical genres.

Any of the seven diatonic modes sequenced in thirds creates its less horizontal arpeggios. Stack and sound segments of the arpeggios on an equal temper tuned instrument to create vertical chords. Chords become sequenced into measured cycles with cadential motions to create the supportive forms for composition. With One, Four and Five as the initial points of interest, thinking by chord type eases our ways of expansion

The old time gallop rhythm is the motor energy of the Americana sounds. Its triplet figure becoming the extraced essence of subdivided time that is woven into the core 2 and 4 backbeat of American musical time, creating the pull of swing in the music. That this joyous rhythm help enliven any musical style is yet another instance of its magic.


(art) The center of our local universe of music theory, the basket that within lives our 12 pitches, an important interval found in the melodies of so many classic songs, in science, a pitch created by dividing the fundamental pitch or string length in half, a 2 : 1 ratio, so as to make the upper pitch vibrate twice as fast as the lower, the interval range containing the seven 7 unique diatonic tones capped by our octave eight 8, of a closed loop major scale, thus also all of its modes and permutations.

octave closure

The Essential principle by which a seven note scale becomes 8 with the inclusion of the root's octave to create the looping closure of equal tempered resources.

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8


Seeking to create and understand this 'perfect closure' of any loop, interval or group of pitches is a cornerstone of our studies.

octave interval melodies

Just seems like with so many great melodies that have an interval in them somewhere it'd be a shame not to start listing them :)

octave transposition

The basic process by which musical pitches are moved by octave to place them in a more playable range for the performer.

odd meters

Since so much of our Americana is based on the 'even' numbers such as 4/4, when things aren't even, we might refer to them as 'odd.' So, time signatures such as 5/4, 7/4 etc., are said to be odd meter. Odd number = odd meter, generally speaking :) And while not that common through the Americana musics, in heavy metal it is not uncommon to hear a measure or two of odd meter inserted into even 4/4 time. Gives that song a uniqueness and the band to show their hard work together, as most of the lines in these sections are fusion / unison. Perhaps the most popular odd meter song is jazz alto saxophonist Paul Desmond's "Take Five", a jazz tune in 5/4 that is a perfect contrast of minor / major in the A and B sectionsthat all swings beautifully, (especially B section).


In European music and analysis, the offbeat is said to be the 2nd and 4th beats of 4 / 4 time, the 2nd and 3rd beats in 3 / 4 time etc., opposite of onbeat or the 1st beat of the measure in 4 / 4 time.

olden days

The olden days is just a slang term to describe times past, which ended when our world was no longer lit only by fire; with candles, various oils and of course the sun. So all the history of times and eras from that point and back is all included and considered the true olden days here in Essentials, i.e., no electricity.

The recent olden days in Americana music is mostly about the blues, in the days before audio recording allowed us to begin a historical record of the magic :)

old school

A common enough term eh ? Here in Essentials old school covers a lot of ground; from the natural, animal sources of our music songs i.e., songbirds and dance to having to tune our ax with a tuning fork, a spectrum of thinking and doing and creating without the benefit of electricity or living a lifestyle termed here in Alaska generally as 'life off the grid.' Like analog versus digital? Kind of yea, 6L6 tubes or a green circuit board in our amps.

Omnibook / the major scale basis

The Omnibook is the collected works of bebop saxophonist Charlie Parker and includes 55 of his original melodies, some with double entries, and their solos transcribed from his recordings. That the bop musical style is thought among so many to be Americana's most challenging music to perform becomes a philosophic basis of this book.

An essential perspective; that 52 of the 55 compositions within the Omnibook are clearly written in a major key helps shape the writing perspective of this Essentials work. For while our inclusiveness strives to know no bounds, I needed a basis to build up from without feeling as if I was slighting any artist whose main musical colors might not be the natural relative major / minor group, that weighs the diatonic relative major / minor towards the major side of things.

Mr. Parker's music in this work, presented in a lead sheet format; melody and chord symbols, is notated without using a key signature, making its analysis that much clearer as the actual pitches go by.

one pitch tritone

A couple of words that describe placing one pitch a tritone interval away from another. Its origins are in the _____ _____; we add a one pitch, a tritone away from the ___ note of a five note pentatonic group and vwala, the core blue notes as well as the 'other five pitches.' .

open chords

Refers to stringed instruments whereby chord shapes include pitches from unstopped strings, open chords are usually found within the first 3 frets on the guitar.

open G

'Open 'G' tuning; G D G B D, is one of the old time banjo tunings that got transferred right over to guitar as it first came up from Mexico and other points beyond. A great tuning for beginners and for blues artists, easy slide guitar and finding the One, Four and Five chords is a snap.

open tuning

Refers to stringed instruments whereby the pitches of the open strings sound various chords. Nearly endless in potential, two are included here in Essentials; the open 'G' tuning and 'Hawaiian 6/9.


By word of mouth, passing along ideas through the spoken word, an ancient teaching style of passing along ideas from one generation to the next.


Most often used to describe the diatonic origin of musical components from inside to outside, or when one musical idea is developed from a central motif within a composition, also when one's musical and artistic evolution happens from within by one's own intuition and hard work; the 'what if' type of questioning.

Organic also applies to the natural source of our pitches from the overtone / harmonic series, on through Pythagorean tuning on through to equal temper tuning, midi and beyond, we also look to create the ultimate organic musical ability; to sing and play the line or ... express the 'art in our hearts' on our chosen instrument :)

original electric guitar

"Every picture tells a story, don't it :)"

ostinato bass figure

This term is borrowed from the European classical cats and simply implies a simple rhythmic figure / pitch or pitch pattern that is repeated many times, like a vamp line. These patterns a great way to build up stories and musical suspense.

(the) other five pitches

This phrase comes to us from jazz guitar wizard Jimmy Bruno. That there are seven pitches for the diatonic scale, perhaps more commonly known as the major / natural minor pairing, that if we subtract 7 from the 12 pitches of the chromatic scale, we are left with 5, the 'other five pitches ... ' which depending on one's perspective, just happen to be the blue notes too :)

our own labors

Simply the idea that in the end, we each are responsible for our own learning and improving as players. Add Lincoln quote.


Slang for improvising a musical vamp, like a caboose on a train, used to end and bring closure to a song while performing, intro / outro.



A mostly slang term that describes spicey, musical events within a key center that includes non diatonic pitches, musical ideas, sounds and colors, these non-diatonic events are termed outside, outside of the key signature and pitches shaping the tonality of the musical piece. The blue notes are a common way to go outside of the diatonic in the Americana styles.


The pitches contained within a vibrating column of air, a plucked string etc., similar to the different colors within white light, i.e., the colors of the rainbow. Please see next entry.

overtone / harmonic series

Mathematical breakdown of a vibrating string or column of air into parts, which become different musical pitches termed overtones, i.e., that they are the tones 'over' their fundamental starting note which in the following example is C. Do note the wider intervals in the first pitches. These lower pitched notes and the wider space between them, is generally the way we creat our chord voicings. Low pitches close together just sound muddy. Also please note the naturally occurring pitches of the V7 chord in the first two measures (C E G Bb).



A painters handheld platform for mixing colors, a way for us guitarists to visualize our various groups of pitches or musical resources as aural colors with which we paint our music.

parallel motion

Describes moving two or more pitches in the same direction by the same interval. Usually when we get to three or more pitches we're talking chords to which we often apply the term constant structure.

parallel key centers

Key centers that share the same root pitch but different scale pitches, i.e., C major and C natural minor, A minor and A Lydian are said to be parallel keys.

parent scale

Refers to the main group of pitches used to create a song, key center, a chord or emotional environment, i.e., the C major scale is the parent scale of a song written in the key of C major whose tonic chord is C major. We use the pitches of a C major scale as the parent scale to create improv over a C major chord. We can generally conjure a 'parent' scale, or a few even, for any chord.

Parker, Charles

American saxophonist who pioneered a new approach to jazz in the early 40's. Termed 'be bop' by historians, 'bop' was the most difficult to play yet still the most exciting improvised music NYC had ever heard. Parker was from the midwest, and is said to have heard pianist Art Tatum on occasion. Parker simply applied what Tatum was doing in his right hand to the saxophone, hiring while Al Haig, among others, to play the chord changes.

By increasing the tempos, using temporary modulations and a sort of '12 tone diatonic structure' for his compositions, Parker and his contemporaries' melodies and improvisations completely exhausted the diatonic pie that they inherited, at blistering tempos. And what device cores up these bebop lines?


Usually meaning to creating different words to a popular melody, a musical satire if you will. Kids do this a lot, they parody the written lyrics and rhythms of a song with their own words and phrases.


A mathematical term often used to describe the overtones created from the sounding of a fundamental, musical tone.

passing chords

Transitory chord between principle chords in a chord progression, often defined by era, musical style and what's diatonic in regards to the key center of the song.

passing tones

Essentially non chord tone pitches which we find in a melody between chord tones of any given chord. Thus if our triad is 'C' major (CEG), and our melody is pitch 'D', we would call this note a passing tone between the 'C' and 'E.'


The study (ogy) of how we undertake the process of learning something, the development of a curriculum of study for a topic or subject, the art of a teacher.

pedal to the metal

Slang term for making the thing go ever faster and faster.

pedal tones

A pedal tone is a sustained pitch within the fabric of the music, usually in an outer voice, i.e., bass or treble these we term a 'lower' or 'upper pedal.' Most times they feature the tonic or dominant pitch of the current key center of the music. Pedal tones are often used as a sure way to generate the sense that 'something' of an event is coming up in the music; top of the chorus, a modulation, new melody etc.

peer pressure

Surely the worst thing about being a teenager, don't submit, strive to be yourself and develop your natural talents, then share the magic of your music with those you love. For once the 'teen' is elimanted from your numerical age, U R GOOD TO GO :)

pentatonic scale

Ancient musical scale containing five pitches which creates both the major and minor colors. Said to have 'no bad notes', most Americana improv cats love these notes for soloing over the changes, while some advancing cats use them in curious ways to solo through the changes. Over or through the changes ... ?

Pentatonic Sudies For Jazz


Simply a cool word for the one of something before the last of any kind of sequence of somethings; so the second to last pitch in any melody from any direction, one chord before the last as say Four to One in a gospel setting, the leading tone pitch in an ascending diatonic scale.


As good as ____ ( it ) might ever get :) Fill in the blank for it for your perfect. Nice to have a standard to lean against. Read on the next few entries here as 'perfect' is a vocabulary term we use a lot in understanding our won musics.

perfect cadence

Five ( V ) to One ( I ) cadential motion with the tonic pitch in bass and lead of the One chord.

perfect closure (A)

Simply the idea that thanks to the perfect closure of our system of pitches and their historically recent equal temper tuning (for creating in tune chords), that no matter how we slice and dice the theory of our interval loops, groups, arpeggios and chords, that if we run a sequence of pitches out long enough, it will always perfectly close back to our starting point.

We get the same closure with rhythm ideas, even more so even as the closure becomes the phrase, most often two, four or eight bars that hold a musical thought.

This plays big for us music theory scientists as we ponder the possibilities of our theory essentials. For example, if we're spelling out the pitches of an 'Ab' major scale using our interval formula, when we run out of intervals, if we're not back to 'Ab', chances are we goofed up somewhere. But if we do come back to our starting point using a formula, probably a good sign that our 'theory machinations' are grooving and correct, thus the perfect closure of it all :)

perfect fifth interval

Art; the dominant pitch within many common groups of pitches that creates the impending motion towards a future event, (history) the sound and pitch that harkens and heralds kings and queens, Coltrane's favorite pitch ?

Science; the division of our string into three equal parts, a 3:2 ratio of numbers, the core interval of clockwise motion around our cycle of 5th's key clock, deemed perfect by virtue of its exceptional sound quality.

perfect fifth melodies

Just seems like with so many great melodies that have a perfect fifth interval in them somewhere, it'd be a shame not to start a listing; so, going to "Scarborough Fair?"

perfect fourth interval

Art; the sub-dominant pitch within many common groups of pitches that creates the impending motion towards a future event. Science; the division of our string into five equal parts, a 4:3 ratio of numbers, inverse of perfect fifth, counterclockwise or backpedaling the cycle of fifths pattern, deemed perfect by virtue of its exceptional sound quality.

perfect fourth melodies

Just seems like with so many great melodies that have a perfect fourth interval in them somewhere it'd be a shame not to include on here to start off with. Been working ... ?

perfect intervals

Well, if we have something that is 'perfect' in our subject of studies, then we have an uncompromising starting point to view, from which to measure and compare everything else to. Thus it is with our pitches. Perfect intervals are so named simply because they sound the best of what we have to work with. For in comparison to our other intervals, they simply create the purest sound of two pitches resonating together. The first three intervals derived from the harmonic series are termed perfect, the octave (2:1), perfect 5th (3:2) and perfect 4th (4:3). First uncovered, scienced and researched and recorded for posterity some 2500 years ago now, perfect intervals form the basis of our music system and its theories that we enjoy to this day.

perfectly closed loops

There's a pretty tight seal on today's most popular pitches. If generated by midi as say in a pop performance, even more so. That our loops and groups have a modern, midi mathematical precision is all about creating 'anything from anywhere', a crazily complete palette of colors.

Often taken for granted, i.e., close enough for jazz ... :)', precision tuned pitches enable each of our 12 unique pitches to be in any possible position in our music. From the root of a key center of a slow blues to being a #15th colortone, all is on the palette of a modern guitarist.

perfectly invert

When the numerical measurement between pitches is the same whether moving up or down, i.e., as the tritone interval splits the span of one octave perfectly in half.


In this text, often implying preparing for performance, whether shedding to spontaneously improvise our music, work out every pitch or a combination of both.

performance vehicle

The mood, form, tonality and rhythms of a particular piece of music, creating categories such as a ballad, swing Latin etc.


A European term used in the discussion of form in music, whereby a musical phrase becomes as a sentence in prose, also a historical era of musical style, such as the "swing" period.


A permutation is simply the recombining of the existing elements of a musical idea into different shapes and structures, with pitches or theory principles. We often prolate an idea looking a new way of presenting the same pitches. For example; the pitches of the major scale are reconfigured to create different melodies. While generally applied to the pitches in a lick, it is also very very common with time in creating rhythm variations. Advancing drummers will prolate an idea to build up a climax in their solos.

For example with three pitches we could prolate the notes this way;

A B C / B C A / C A B etc.

this book's philosophy

EMG philosophy. A single strand of thought initiates the core philosophy of this work. That the number of pitches used in creating the melody of any musical work will consistently reflect the musical style of other melodies with the same numbers of pitches.

Onto this strand we weave a second strand; that the way we've tuned these notes over many many generations of artists is the 'shaper' of the musics these pitches created. Taken over a couple of millenea and then some perhaps, our tuning evolutions come with the sciences as developed over the last 1000 years or so.

For truth be known, while our pitches have been around for many many many moons now how we've tuned them up has historically gone through some very serious societal evolutions, for the resulting 'new pitches were often a bit on the controversial side of the status quo.

So all else flows as we examine what each additional pitch can bring to the core group of three pitches; the triad, and the now ancient pentatonic five. For example, that if a melody has three, four or five pitches chances are good it's a children's song or folk tune of sorts. Add one new pitch to the minor pentatonic five and our blue melody group manifests (in theory).

To the other bookend; if a melody has near twelve pitches, then it probably includes some chromaticism thus leaning it to the jazz stylings of our spectrum, as the chromatics usually shift the tonal gravity a bit, thus freeing up the time to swing in a wider range of possibilities. And while all of our styles swing, jazz demands a bit more risk taking at brighter tempos so can swing harder. Many listeners feel and hear this and pat their foot along or head for the dance floor to the joy of what the improv Americana musics can bring to the human spirit, and has for the last century or so.

Thus our understanding the theory can be simply viewed as a gradual addition of selected pitches to our core groups. The discussion titled 'groups of pitches' runs this numerical philosophy right on down.

super brief history of tuning


Term for a musical or verbal statement, expression of an idea.


Describes how a particular player articulates their phrase or ideas, part of a person's artistic signature.

piano and guitar

Musical instruments that represent the entire melodic and harmonic resource available from equal temper tuning.

piano forte

Literally the ability of soft (piano) and (loud) pitch sounds that live in conventional pianos. This one additional ability to the existing keyboards of the day created a dramatic transition in Western music. This new instrument further encouraged composers to venture deeper into the key cycle eventually demanding the equal temperment tuning.

letter names of the white piano keys and locating the two diatonic half steps B to C and E to F

piano tuning

Equal tempered tuning is a system of tuning whereby each of the 12 pitches are equally distributed within the octave, thereby rendering them equal to one another. And as applied to a full piano keyboard, this equality is extended over an aural range of seven octaves. Thus with equal temper tuning, all musical events are equally projectable from each of the 12 pitches of the chromatic scale, thus creating the full palette of musical colors enjoyed by the modern guitarist.

piano tuning method and its math

Piano tuning. Getting the strings of a piano up to tune is a snap these days. There are electronic tone generators that have the 'tuning 10th' pitches as presets. Cats push the buttons and twist the hammers. Once the 10th is done the rest of the pitches are found by octaves.

For many, the musical math that allows this process to happen is more than just fascinating, for the history associated with our tunings is woven in with the complete recorded history of our civilizations.

It goes sort of like this ...

The 12th root of 2 becomes the multiplier for finding the 12 pitches of our octave.

From the base pitch A of our tuning 10th, vibrating at 220 cycle per second ...

A 220 multiplied by the 12th root of 2 (1.0594631) equals 233.081882 which is the frequency of Bb.

Then the same math to find the pitch for 'B' natural. Do the math :)

Bb / 233.081882 x 1.0594631 = ##### / B

Same process to get the other pitches.

piano chord voicings

Equal tempered tuning is a system of tuning whereby each of the 12 pitches are equally distributed within the octave, thereby rendering them equal to one another. And as applied to a full piano keyboard, this equality is extended over an aural range of seven full octaves. Thus with an equal temper tuning, all musical events are equally projectable from each of the 12 pitches of the chromatic scale, thus creating the same full palette of musical colors enjoyed by the modern guitarist.

Picardy third

Using the major third in cadential motions in the minor tonality, usually the last chord of the piece.

pick up note

One or more notes or chords used as an intro into a melody, verse etc.


Musical name for a specific musical note or sound designated by letter or number.

pivot chord

A term used to describe the chord used to move from one key center to another, most often a dominant type chord which contains pitches of the key center the music is modulating towards.


Originally from the Greeks, who used this term to describe a "mode within a mode", in modern times often referring to a chord cadencing with the tonic and subdominant chords.

plain chant

Plain chant; one melody line sung in unison by many voices in octaves, the Monks of Fontgombault Abbey, recreators of early plainchant style song with a bit of organ in the mix. Super clear examples of modal, monophonic music, wonderful interval / ear training music to study.

planing (plane - ing)

Describes moving one chord voicing by a consistant interval or pattern, i.e., half step, whole step / half step etc.


More of a slang term to describe when the groove and rhythm of a song is locked in among the players creating it. Also, commonly based on the 2 and 4 beats of the big four beat, cool grooves often hang in the pocket of 2 and 4 :) Also a term bass players use with drummers when the two are synched right up, thus in the pocket.


Two or more musically significant melodic ideas played simultaneously without chordal accompaniment. As we increase the number of melody lines in the weave, we'll lean towards having four 'voices.' Bass, tenor, alto and soprano? Yea, pretty much. And the more the voices line up vertically on the same beats in a measure? Yep, the more they sound like our everyday chords :)

Understand this last bit of questioning and now adding; that this style of polyphonic composition was popular from earliest times to well into 1700's ... And if one melody supported by chords, homophony, which is our core way of composing today, began to come along right around the same times and develop ... then what changed?


The simultaneous sounding or use of more than one key center in composition or performance. In improvisation, generally associated with the stacking of major triads one atop another or moving major triads over a pedal tone, temporarily disguising our sense of key center.


My term to describe the idea that in any of our musical styles, there's songs that lean towards pop music. Also often termed 'crossover', artists are simply taking the core elements of a style and adding pop style flourishes. One benefit of which might be acceptence of the song by a wider range of radio stations, thus more air play = more $. Top 10 melodies make nice paydays too :)


popular / pop music

Term used to describe melodies that every listener of American music might recognize and perhaps hum the tune from memory, also famous players and established musical styles.


A portal can be viewed as a magical window of sorts that from its outward appearance gives no definitive hint of the true coolness that lies beyond.


Usually for players of stringed instruments, position generally refers to the placement of the 1st finger (index) of the hand fretting the strings.

position shifting

Developing the ability to rapidly and accurately shift the index finger to the proper fret location, up and down the fingerboard.

post bop

In this work defined as; a rather brief period in jazz history that follows after bebop that mainly evolved bop's Two / Five cycling into a new cyclical pattern. Pioneered by John Coltrane, presented in his composition "Giant Steps", artists often refer to these cycles as "Coltrane changes." This harmony was the penultimate step of the evolution of Americana harmony into the 'free' jazz which was to follow in the early 60's.

pour moi

French for "for me."

pour toi

French for "for you."

power chords

As the name describes, chunks of harmony that can energize the music. Also, creating chords from the root / 5th interval and running them through distortion and overdrive filters.


power trio

A 'power' trio usually implies a mostly rock styled sound, a configuration of bass, drums and guitars. Cream, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Double Trouble, Chili Peppers are popular rock power trios.


My term to describe a concept that goes way back in the history of our evolution, from "knuckle-dragging."


prime numbers

A number that it only divisible by one and itself.

principle triads

The One, Four and Five triads / chords of the major and minor tonalities.


Just totally having a bit of fun here ... when articulated in speech with a bit of high brow knowing, 'proper' is mostly about theory 'rules' of the road; the proper way a thing is done. Most times this is about finding a diatonic source to find a solution, that is if there is one. We then add artistic liscense to this process, that allows and encourages us to break any theory rules when the situation neccessitates or the art demands.


Often used to describe music that we hear incidentally in public places, an elevator, the grocery store etc.

pure legit theorists

The idea that there is a clearly historical and quantifyable evolution to our music theory of Western Civilization. Coupled with the idea that music outside of this tradition is not deemed serious. HA!

purity of sounds

Our whole system of music theory is based on the purity of sound found with the octave interval of great renown. Of course our ears initially decided this with the help of historically later quantifyable quantifier, mathematics, which simply reinforced what our ears told us was true in the first place, as theorists we measure and asighn a numerical value to this purity on the degree of complexity of the numerical ratios that create the intervals of our music.

octave; 2:1 ratio / the higher pitch spins or vibrates twice as fast as the lower pitch, a two for one deal :)


The ancient Greek scholar who is credited with organizing and recording in written form the core principles of the music theory of our pitches as we know them today, circa 500 BC or so. (Grout, p.5)

Pythagorean comma

The error in pitch, slightly sharp, found when closing the cycle of fifth's when created by using the ratio of 3:2 in tuning the 12 pitches of the chromatic scale. This is corrected by the equal temper tuning method.

Pythagorean tuning

A system of tuning whereby all of the pitches are created by using the interval of a perfect fifth, the ratio of 3:2.

quarter note

Rhythmic designation of one beat in 4 / 4 time.

quartile melody and harmony

Refers to melodic motion and chordal harmony created with intervals of the perfect fourth. Distinct from our tertian building of chords of major and minor 3rd's, quartile chords stack fourths; both the diatonic fourths within a key center and staright perfect fourths. As our most common arpeggios and harmony is built in thirds, termed tertian harmony, quartile sounds are fresh. We do combine the two; various triads supporting stacked fourths.


Generally means to play part of the melody of one song in another.

radio dial


Describes the available pitches, from the lowest to the highest pitches, on any given instrument.


A numerical depiction that describes quantities relative to each other i.e., 2:1 octave, 3:2 perfect 5th etc.


I believe this term originally refers to the thorough bass of the Baroque keyboard cats of the 17th century. As the music evolved on newly emerging keyboard instruments, the music was written in such a way as to use numbers underneath the staff / bass pitch that the player would 'realize' in creating the harmony, the numbers being representative of the intervals of pitches above the root to create the chords. Here in this Essentials text, the term generally implies any actual music created from lettered or numbered musical symbols, for example, what we think and actually play when they see a G 7 or V7 chord symbol.

real book

Collection of published songs, also called "fake" books usually written out as a lead sheet, so just melody and it's rhythms and lettered chord symbols.

pristine cover for Real Book Vol. 1

real time

Refers to 'as it is happening.'


Refers to the pitch range of a particular instrument. Also register.


Working out a new set of chord changes for a melody.

the relative major / minor scale

The common theory label for the essential diatonic seven pitches from all of our diatonic scales, arpeggios and chords may be derived. 'Relatives' in that the same letter name grouping of seven pitches neatly holds our two part, yin / yang, major / minor balance of tonalities; based on the now ancient intervalic formula simply by finding different start points of its loop of pitches i.e., C major / A natural minor.

C relative major: C D E F B A B C

A relative minor: A B C D E F G A

relative minor

The minor tonality balance as found within the diatonic major scale, sharing identical key signatures thus pitches, see just above.


A startling period of the arts in European history between 1400 or so and 1650, the start of the baroque period.

repeat sign

Staff notation marking at the end of a measure that repeats us back to to a former point in the music.


To release musical tension.


Implies a reverse or backward motion.

rhythm changes

A set of stock chord changes used for writing tunes such as "I Got Rhythm and "Oleo."

rhythm loops

These are a big thing nowadays, as folks generally just call them beats. There's advertisements for cats who'll create beats for your raps. They form the rhythm motor for the contemporary hip hop and rap music.


Slang for soloing, to take a ride, to improvise musical dialogue in real time.

ride time

Slang for the amount of time a player gets to solo / improvise within a performing group.


Slang for a short musical phrase.


Our 'rig' is whatever it takes to produce the musical sounds we're hearing. So for us guitar players, everything from say a beater nylon string acoustic to a synth guitar setup that, through a p.a., can sound like string sections and pipe organs. Pro players often end up with a lot of gear as they get hired to cover and create the myriad of different guitar sounds in our musical fabric of today. The 'rig' becomes the gear they take to the gig to get the sound they hired on for. Thus the oft included caveat in the musical want ads of having ... 'pro gear and wheels.' The cat has the means to make the sounds and the wearwithal to get it there too :)


Slowing down the pace of the music for dramatic effect, often found at the end of performing a song.

right on it

Slang for starting a song directly with the melody, i.e., no introduction.


( between a ) rock and a hard place

Just an old cliche used here to describe some of the intellectual rub I struggle with in discussing the theory and the music while not trying to ding anyone in regards to what is most important artistically to them :)


Rocketship. This is just a reference to a humorous, fictional story that compser, pianist theory wizard Dr. George Russell cooked up in his modern musical treatise titled the Lydian Chromatic Concep Of Tonal Orgainzation. Mr. Russell writes an endearing story describing Americana tenor saxophone heros as they modulate key centers of music, which in his story are towns along the Mississippi River. In this narrative, Mr. Russell uses a steamer, running the local route that stops at each town. There's also an express steamer that stops only at the large towns along the river.

Then the story describes Mr. Coltrane, who in a rocket ship, who not only visits every town, small and large, but once picking up the key center pitches, can ascend limitless, melodic heights before returning to the next town along the way.

Really the V7 logo on Trane's ship is just the stuff of legends of course but the V7 chord itself was surely a transport of choice for Mr. Coltrane's explorations. Russell's work was a sure fit piece of the puzzle for my early work in developing my own #15 system of pitches for composing / improv.

sharp (#) 15

composing / improv


Pun intended, Rodney was a fictional planet invented wayback when we we're kids. In later years we used it to describe 'outside' musical sounds, music a valence or two beyond the diatonic sphere of things.


Term used to describe a definite picking pattern on a stringed instrument, often associated with the banjo, i.e., a banjo roll, perhaps the earliest of the popular American stringed instruments, also a series of drum strokes as in a 'press roll.'

Roman numerals

Symbols used by theorists to denote a particular chord's location within a key center, based on the scale degrees of the tonic scale, upper case ( IV ) denoting major sounds, lower case ( iv ), the minor colors. In more advanced harmonic motions beyond the diatonic realm, these symbols are paired with the idea of chord type, categories of chords that streamline the theory and its learning process.


The root pitch of a chord is the letter name that identifies any chord. The term is mostly used to identify the fundamental pitch of a chord, used in naming the chord, i.e., C is the root pitch of a C major chord, C minor, C7 etc. We'll also generally apply the term to the tonic pitch or One of really any scale, arpeggio or key centers etc.

root motion

Term used to describe the fundamental pitches of chord progressions.

root position

Simply a chord whose identifying pitch is the root or lowest pitch of the chord. From this point we create a further variety with chord inversions. Dr. Miller would always say ... 'if you think from the root of the chord ol' boy you'll never get lost.'

rote learning

Rote learning. This learning method is based on simple repetition of the materials to be learned. We simply repeat the process as many times as necessary to retain the info. Along the way we label up the component parts. They're just handier with a name. We rote memorize the names as words and create discussions of their places in understanding our music.

Learning by rote can also entail finding different ways to get to the same solution using other perspectives of the components. For example the number of minor or minor key centers and the number of pitches in the chromatic scale. These 'cross' links simply helps solidify the info. We often create these new solutions of rote learning when we intuitvely present the ideas in such as a way as to tie into an interested learner's existing information.

Learning things by rote is the old fashioned way from another era really, and once the dues are paid in the learning, we usually get to keep it all forever. Here in theoryville Essentials there's at least five things to rote learn, which when combined together create an intellectual architecture to build upon forevermore.

rote master

The crash course for the theory becomes simply a rote memorization of three things. The trick to success is also in three parts; to rote learn their symbols, their sound and location on a musical instrument.

1) Letter symbols for musical notes located on your fretboard. There are 12 to rote know.

2) Letter and numeric symbols for chords. Example for C major.


3) American big four time. One rhythm symbol and a loop counting to four .


From Italian generally meaning to 'rob', rubato is the displacement of musical time within a given tempo to accommodate interpretive phrasing. Commonly found in the last few measures of the performance of a song and is often conducted through gesture by the leader of the group.

running the changes

Slang term for executing a musical idea through various sorts of filters, sequences, chord changes i.e., 'running the changes', a term used to describe creating single note melodic line through the chord changes of a song, often a warmup for advancing improvisors.


'To rush', playing faster than the tempo being employed, accelerating the existing tempo, generally not a good thing.


Or pay some dues and play the blues ... actually the term sacrifice here is about purity of pitch and how when we equal temper tune our pitches to enable the anything from anywhere, some would say we sacrifice the natural beauty of the intervals, especially the thirds; major and minor, to achieve this 12 tone ability. This simple arguement raged in Europe during the 1600's and forward as the sciences, which creates equal temper tuning, were debated as part of the everyday and spiritual life of Europeans of the day.


Latin flavored dance groove, super popular for the jazzers from the early 80's onward, became the staple of the 'new age' jazz, often with a 'two beat' pulse, or said to be 'in two', as happening a groove there ever was as advanced players in this style can make the barlines simply go away.


The groups of selected pitches from which we create our melodic and harmonic ideas.

scale degree

Putting a numerical label on pitches within a scale in relation to a tonic pitch. In this Essential's work we capitolize the letter ('C') used with a written number to designate its scale degree. This capitalization of written numbers applies to chords also. Upper and lower case Roman numerals define the major / minor triad within any given chord in relation to their scale degrees.

scale degree theory names

Each of our diatonic scale degrees of the major / relative minor groupings have academic theory names. The following table created from the Ottman book cited here.

Ottman, Robert. Elementary Harmony, Second Edition, p.5. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 1970.

scale degree
major key
scale degree
minor key
leading tone
raised submediant
leading tone

#6 / #7 imply raising the diatonic minor pitch by half step

scale formula (s)

A term we use to describe the intervals, mostly whole steps and half steps, used to create our groups of pitches from which we create our melodic ideas. In the formulas, intervals are designated by the fraction 1/2 for a half step or one fret or the number 1 for a whole step of two frets, wider intervals are designated by their intervals from the root pitch of the scale under consideration. The following chart lists our diatonic and generally most common melodic groupings / scales and their interval formulas.

Ionian mode / diatonic major scale / I


Dorian / ii


Phyrgian / iii


Locrian / IV


Mixolydian / V


Aeolian / diatonic natural minor scale / vi


Locrian / vii


Moving beyond the diatonic and getting into some of the ancient as well as modern possibilites.

harmonic minor
1 / 2
melodic minor
augmented ~ whole tone
diminished ~ minor 3rd
altered dominant / combines the diminshed and whole tone qualities
Klezmer/ fifth mode of harmonic minor

Author's note. Probably just pure lazy here but there's no Essentials 'major blues scale.' For in my own playing it just creates confusion and those 'bad pitches' (in relation to the chord changes) that more easily occur when I play too many notes ! :) Google up the major blues scale at some point and see oif there is anything there for you.

scale syllabus

A listing of our melodic resources.

C pentatonic major scale
C six note major / no leading tone
C diatonic major scale
C Ionian
C Dorian
C Phrygian
C Lydian
C Mixolydian
C Aeolian
C Locrian
C whole tone scale
C pentatonic minor scale
C minor blues
C natural minor
C harmonic minor
C melodic minor
C diminished
C altered
C Klezmer minor
C chromatic scale
C chromatic scale

scale length

A stringed instrument's scale length is the distance from the nut; usually a bone or plastic type string guide located at the base of the headstock, to the bridge; usually located below where the strumming or picking hand works its magic.


Simply a slang term for the vocalization of our musical phrases. Many jazz singers scat sing improvised musical lines in the tradition of the horns, guitar etc. Some scat sing and play their guitar lines together. Guitarist george benson is such an artist. "Sing the line ... play the line." I've heard that many time over the years from top artists. The idea simply to internalize the musical phrase then find it on our gits. Also, a proven way to help your guitar lines to swing is by getting your scat vocal lines to swing.


A musical jazz hero of my jazz generation is John Coltrane and the adjective I heard many times to describe his approach and process to his art was that of 'searching.' The idea that an artist will, over the course of their careers, continue to examine their work and their resources to find new combinations of existing elements, to not only better express their ideas but to also increase the creative challenge in their work. This challenge becomes the 'Coltrane evolutions' that is a backbone of this text.

second ending

The idea of a second ending in our musics is a way to extend our musical forms and a handy way to notate music back long before 'cut and paste' was a couple of mouse clicks. Here's an example from the author's "Good Bye Again", of the 1st and 2nd endings, with common bracketing notation used in written music. There's no sound file for this music here but the full score is included a click away.

second inversion

A chord voicing where the lowest pitch of the chord voicing is fifth chord degree of the triad, i.e., C / G.

Root position triad = C E G

First inversion = E G C

Second inversion = G C E etc.

secondary dominant chord

Thinking diatonically, creating a dominant chordal color on a scale degree other than Five in the major tonality, also when one dominant chord precedes another, i.e., D7 to G7 etc. This we often term 'Five of Five, and it is quite common in all of our styles. Probably the most common diatonic alteration we can find through our wide spectrum of styles.

Back in the day, when the Sears Roebuck catalogue was the mail order king, composers and players coined the phrase of a 'Sears Roebuck' bridge. Doc used it in class many times, for it is very common to use these chords in 'rhythm changes.'

Most often we'll find this 'Sears' cycle of dominant chords moving by perfect fourth. For example for a tune written in Bb, the 'Sears' eight bar bridge of the chords such as D7 / G7 / C7 / F7 is common

We theorists would muse that this series of chords is 'V7 of V7 of V7 ... etc. Cycles of dominant chords, that when applied intensively enough, can lead to the more modern sounds described here as a sort of chromatic buzzing in the music (no real sense of key center), which at excellerated tempos, is just a marvel to behold.

Segovia, Andres

The diatonic major and minor scale study book by Andres Segovia. Big pieces of the five scale shapes in this work are in found in this classical study. Our work here is fundamentally different from the classical approach in that we jazzy Americano's simply want everything under our fingers in really any spot on the neck over the full range of the instrument. Termed 'position playing', in the rapid tempos of jazz there's often just not time to jump around the neck too much, as we look to solo 'through the chord changes.'

segue (segway)

A compositional component that is used to smoothly connect sections within arrangements or one song with another, creating a continuous flow of the music.

seminar part one

what does music mean to you / make a list

then just connect them up

time / evo swing

scale / arpeggio / chord

learning tunes



seminar part two / guitar and bass method

Meet with each participant.


An ordered series of events.


A method of musical composition whereby the parent scale is created from all of the 12 pitches and can be modulated to any of the tonal centers of the chromatic scale, often termed 12 tone composition.


In math and music :), a set of elements is a way to define the limits of its components. For we music theory scientists, our 'set' is the 12 pitches of the chromatic scale. And from this 'set of 12' we then 'group' up our variously numbered musical components; pentatonic, diatonic, blues and modal scales, the blue notes, triads etc.

set list

The list of songs, usually in order, that a band is to perform. Organizes a program for performance. Helps in organizing a variety of musical styles into one show.


# of days in the week ? # of pitches in ancient the diatonic scale? Right, 7. # of pitches in the modes? Seven. # of pitches in the relative major / natural minor scale? Seven. The number of diatonic triads in a key center? Yep, 7. The leading tone 'traffic cop' pitch is on Seven yes? Sure is, so the age old natural magics of all things seven includes much in our music and its theories.

(a) seventh chord

Slangy, generally implies a chord containing a triad and seventh chord degree; to major, dominant, minor, augmented or diminished triads.

shake loose

Inspired here by KB, simply an Alaskan slang term that describes what might come to mind as we shed through our choosen music while knowing its theoretical basis. As we pan through the library and discover the nuggets, we theorists can then begin the filtering process transforming the often raw nuggets into the beautiful art that we alone have discovered, transformed and shared with everyone. What might come about from searching? Yep.

wiki ~ Shakespeare

The bard of the ages Shakespeare often wrote in a form of verse called iambic pentameter, a rhythm of words and phrases that simply uses an unaccented and accented pulse on alternating words ... and if this sounds like one of our couplings of Americana 8th notes, with the accent on the offbeat, then let the swing begin :) Counted like this:

1 & 2 & 3 & 4 & / 1 & ... 2 3 4 / repeat

Now adding some lyrics lifted from the bard himself ... well sort of :)

'to be or not to be is how we roll ... 2 3 4'

Blues lyrics often follow this form of verse.


In this text a slang term used to describe a scale shape or chord voicing as created on a guitar or other chordal stringed instruments.


In tuning, to create a sound slightly above the desired pitch. In notation, the # symbol to raise the written pitch by half step. These are the nearly always one of the black keys on the piano keyboard.


Slang for practicing; push the buttons, shed, chop shop, woodshed etc.

sheets of sound

Originally a way of describing term the physical effect upon the listener created by hearing rapidly articulated arpeggios of chord substitutions moving through the chord changes of a song, as first imagined and articulated by John Coltrane during the early 1960's.

"Shine A Light"

shout chorus

Usually the last chorus of a song being performed whereby all of the players involved turn the passion of their part up a notch or two, i.e., to shout. Common in the blues and Dixieland styles.


Slang for the sound of tearing up steel, associated with the various types of overdrive / distortion sounds for guitar.


Slang for a blues groove usually in 12 / 8, using a triplet feel to motor the basic groove.


Sideman industry slang for accompanying member of a musical group.


Reading standard music notation.

silent architecture

A term of mine that describes the pitch organization and funtionality of the Pythagorean cycle of 5th's filtered through equal temper tuning which is a basis for creating our musics today.

simple intervals

Those intervals found within the span of one octave.

# of frets
common symbols
perfect unison
minor second
one half step
one fret
major 7th
major second
one whole step
two frets
minor 7th
maj 2 / ii
minor third
three half steps
three frets
major 6th
b3 / -3 / min 3
major third
two whole steps
four frets
minor 6th
3 / iii
perfect fourth
five half steps
five frets
perfect 5th
per. 4 / IV
augmented fourth
three whole steps
six frets
diminished 5th
diminished fifth
six half steps
six frets
augmented 4th
perfect fifth
seven half step
seven frets
perfect 4th
per. 5 / V
augmented fifth
four whole steps
eight frets
augmented 4th
minor sixth
eight half steps
eight frets
major 3rd
b6 / -6 / min 6
major sixth
9 half steps
nine frets
minor 3rd
6 / vi
minor seventh
5 whole steps
ten frets
major 2nd
b7 / -7 / min 7
major 7th
11 half steps
11 frets
minor 2nd
maj 7 / vii
six whole steps
12 frets
8 / VIII


This is a theory term in this work that correlates to the number of pitches in any musical component. For example; the more pitches in one chord, the more complex 'in theory' that chord is said to be.


Slang for working a gig as a solo performer.

Also one song released on its very own.

single note lines

Perhaps more of just a fancy term to describe melody lines created by individual pitches strung togetheras with a trumpet, saxophone, flute etc. We use this term with guitar to dillineate these streams of single pitches strung together from say chord melody and octave styled lines.

sitting in

Bringing your instrument to a musical performance or jamm session and playing with the band. Historically where so much 'new' happens. Make new friends, new bands form, new songs emerge, new styles evolve and ... a good place to find work :)


Sleeker is usually faster and in music that means basically two or three things to make it seem to go faster. The basic forward motion of the music? Yep. The sense of 'forward motion.'

Making the music sleeker has to do with tightening up the spaces between the pitches, thus we're thinking more by half step intervals, i.e., chromatic? Exactly.

Subbing Two for Four is probably the sleeker that changes a lot of the game. The Two / Five / One cadential motion is just way sleeker than Four / Five / One. While motion to Four is still the usual goal, we'll get there in sleeker fashion using a Two chord.

Passing diminished chords on #One, #Two and #Four fill in between the steps of the diatonic scale and up the pace of the music.


Slides create glissando. Creating a smooth motion between pitches, the sound of which includes the pitches in between, also usually a glass or metal bar device used by guitar players on the strings to achieve this effect, a favorite of blues players. Author's slide. This is a rather heavy piece of glass. Slides can be made of anything that will slide along on the strings and let em' ring out.

snare drum

The historical center drum of modern drumming; for parades, marching, drum core bands and everything else really. There's a whole schooling of rudements for the snare drum, that build technique and chops for performance.

In our Americana musics over the last 50 years or so, in nearly everything that's on popular radio, there's a snare hit on 2 and 4. Everything? Crank the tunes and spin the dial and you'll believe :)

In jazz drumming, Art Blakey, rest his soul, is renowned for his 'pressed rolls' on the snare drum. Such a masterful way to create the sense of forward motion and excitement for what is to come next in the music. There's a giant stack of vynal that the Jazz Messengers and Mr. Blakey laid down, find some and marvel at their magic of time.

softening / softer

My slang for the gradual obscuring of a musical color and its tonal direction mostly by the addition of various color tones. In a visualization of this, view the fine art paintings from the Impressionist era of the 1850's and forward. For those who need to dig deeper, just explore the evolution of fine art paintings from 1800 to 1900 with an eye towards the colors and the representation of the subject matter in the picture.

In our music this translates into what degree of predictability is in the music. How obvious is it where the music is going. Do we want to surprise the listener with some unexpected turn? Or just groove along where everyone can easily follow along. Lots of folks dig the 12 bar blues form and all of its incarnates of style. From first hand experience from the bandstand watching an audience, most if not all can sense where the music is going to go. Dancers in the know choreograph their steps to the form. All just pure magic to be a part of.

softening process

In this text applies to the lightening of color from the darker diminished color towards the pentatonic, and all points in between. We'll explore this as artists as we tire of what was 'new' and look for ways to evolve this into our next 'new.'


Implies one musical voice playing or creating the melody with the rest of the group in a supportive role.


A clarity of resonance in chords, where each pitch within the chord is clearly distinguishable.

the sound and the theory

A play on words here for sure but simply the idea that certain theory components need the right kind of sound to make them work. The best example just might be the open 5th chords of rockin' metalists overdrive, without which the chords sound a bit thin in spots :) A bit of reverb for the blues cat, acoustic players and vocalist is usually in order. The stereo reverb, chorus and delay combinations for the modernist among us etc.

spectrum of musical styles and resources

Simply the idea that our musical resources can be displayed in an array or linear format ranked by their theoretical complexity (# of pitches in the melody) and by their use in the general styles of American music.


Of all the basics in our studies of music, so much of the learning goes back to diatonic spelling the letters of scales, arpeggios and chords. Just like with words, we as theorists want to be able to spell out the letter names of the pitches in our musical components. While it's pretty vast at first, there's a few shortcuts, that once rote learned, make the spelling of scales, arpeggios and chords a snap.

spelling chords

Total game changer for the evolving theorist and improviser. Luckily there's an easy method set in stone. This next pic is off the music stand from a friend who studied with Jackie McLean in the 70's. 'Spell the chords' with your horn was a way to shed and create an improvised line through the chord changes of a song. The penciled in words are in McLean's own hand ... :)

Chord spelling chart in C major.
scale # degrees
C major scale
arpeggio # degrees
C major arpeggio
chord # / quality
diatonic 7th chords

square roots of numbers

In dividing the octave in 12 equal parts, the basis of equal temper tuning, is created by using the mathematics of the square roots of numbers. The earlier 'rule of 18', which fretted the various lutes and its bretheren, gave way to the more exacting formula of the '12th root of 2', the tuning key that eventually unlocked the full potential of the piano and all its bretheren :)


Italian for detached, refers to a style of melodic phrasing whereby each of the pitches is separate from one anther.


Slang for using some sort of rig where the components are stacked one atop another i.e., a Marshall stack, Hiwatt, Fender, Mesa Boogie etc.


Template of lines and spaces for notating music.


Slang for bandstand, stage etc.


A 'standard' in our collection of music usually implies a song that has withstood the test of time through the ages and remains a living song as each new generation of listeners comes along. For players, these songs are the ones often requested at work and the ones folks just know and enjoy the best. For us theorists, there's usually something 'theory unique' in the tune, apart from being popular, that we can identify, understand and add to our skills as players and composers. Dr Miller often siad' there's something neat and unique that makes s 'standard a standard.'

wiki ~ standard

standard tuning

Refers to centering all pitches from the 440 A, also refers to the conventional way we tune our own instruments:

tune a guitar, E, A, D ,G, B, E,

a bass E, A, D, G

a violin, G, D, A, E,

all the horns, harmonica, pianos.


A regulary repeated metrical division of a song or poem, also know as a verse in a song.

start your E chord

From racing cars of course but musically from lead singer John Gaines, who fronted the top 40 band of my friends called "Fast Tracks." They did this huge thing when there was a birthday in the house. On John's command of "Gentlemen, start your E chord", which for the guitar players was the open E major through various devices, keys with a B-3 patch, all through a giant p.a., John would then commence to host, roast and then toast the lucky birthday girl or boy, of course followed up by the whole club singing the classic. Huge fun for everyone.


'Unmoving', in music, often used in describe a harmonic situation where one chord is used for extended periods of time, i.e., 'static harmony' as in a vamp etc.


Consecutive melodic / harmonic ascending or descending motion using the pitches of a select melodic grouping of pitches as the 'steps.' For example, a descending, stepwise motion of the 'C' major scale;



Usually an alternating between short bursts of music and silence, as in early rock or between choruses / soloists in traditional up tempo jazz arrangements, i.e., two bar solo break /bluegrass breakdown etc. Anytime the band can start and stop together its cool. Precision stops for the whole band are a lot of work to get right but can drop jaws, and that's usually a good thing all around :)


In this text used to describe the spiritual content and emotional environment of a song, i.e., major key, minor key, modal piece etc.

straight ahead jazz

Here in Essentials, the idea of a 'straight ahead' jazz today follows its traditional meaning; it embodies the art of creating improvised dialogue generally within the form of a song and creating melodic lines built from the chord changes / harmonic cycle of the song. We can base this definition from the pinnacle of jazz performance format found in bebop. And from this point outward in many directions stylistically, this combined performance format and wide library of songs creates the category; straight ahead jazz.

Straight ahead is to a certain degree the 'mainstream jazz' as it applies collectively to the all of the jazz musics up through to the late 1950's or so. For during this 50 plus years or so, especially over the radio, jazz was our pop music and was the mainstream sounds on many of the airwaves.

This ever evolving 'pop' music just evolved through the generations along with everything else; other fine arts and world musics, fashions, foods, architecture and design etc., always keeping up with the times and reflecting on the life and times of the artists evolving the music through their skills, insights and development.

Bebop music centers on its originators Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie. The 1957 "Milestones" album of Miles davis featuring John Coltrane is this author's fave record that just so happens to be syatight ahead jazz. Perhaps in our modern tech, just a few mouse clicks away ... to listen to real deal straight ahead jazz :)

To hear some very accessable straight ahead jazz check out jazz master drummer Art Blakey and his group; The Jazz Messengers, who together made a record in 1981 in San Francisco that they titled "Blakey Straight Ahead." Might be a good performance to start off the listening in this style of Americana musics.

Another suggestion for straight ahead jazz is the library of Dexter Gordon. His 1982 album "Gotham City", is also pure straight ahead and mainstream in historical tradition. more of the newer chromaticism from the early 1960's while retaining a basis in the blues, both in colors and form, so always retaining the core of it all really for jazz and most Americana styles and genres; the blues.

Career players of any style, jazz or not, should consider finding and absorbing these recordings or others by these two artists. These cats made dozens or records each. re's dozens of . For all of our Americana musical colors are in full display charging 'straight ahead' with a rhythm of swing as wide wide with joy as it may yet ever get. Well ...

stretch out

Extended soloing beyond whatever you current norm is. For example, if you're taking a one chorus solo on a 12 bar blues, take two :)

strength of player

Slang to describes a players ability to build and manage musical tension over short or long amounts of musical time.


Perhaps the simplest song form, one reoccurring section of music is used to support one or more verses, many childrens songs are created in this form.

style / evolution

Simply the idea that we can theoretically create a parallel perspective comparing our musical styles with the number of pitches that we generally use in creating melodies in that style. The basic range is from three, for a triad, to five pitches for children's songs and folk ideas all the way through to the 12 tones of jazz.

That by the gradual adding or subtracting of pitches from their core groups, we can stylistically influence the overall sound of the music. So by sheer number of pitches used to create melodies, the following style sequence emerges; folk, blues, rock, pop and jazz.

Author's note: please be flexible here in regards to labeling styles and look for the endless genre combinations of these core five styles that theoretically create the genres you love.


Common term used to describe the division of a musical beat or pulse into smaller units. In this following graphic we subdivide our note values in common 4/4 time. The big 4? Yep, the big 4. The original marching time for the Americana parades of New Orleans.


The diatonic fourth scale degree of the major / relative minor groups of pitches, harmony built on the fourth scale degree.


Substitution; simply replacing one musical component with another. In jazz, we use subsitution to create variety and evolve the music. I'm a great believer in the role of boredom in the advancement of American music. Cats just get tired of the same old same old at work. I know I often did.

So things naturally evolve and oftentimes these evolutions simply are devised to create greater improvisational challenges. Trane's advancement into the double Two / Five motion in his earlier "Moment's Notice" days is my best example of this idea of 'relieving the tedium through greater artistic challenge.'

And in this case cited, a super clear evolution of the theory to follow to fully understand its organic process without really bending any rules :)

suggested melodies

Every melody included in this work is free from copyright restrictions. Either they are in the public domain or original songs of my own. Yet, there a oftentimes when there's a single tune, more modern so copyright restricted, that illustrates the theory to a 't.' Thus the idea of supplemental songs.

These suggested melodies form the list of about 25 supplemental melodies or so that are optionally purchased as mp3 download files at your own discretion.

super nova

Describes game changer things that re-arrange the music theory planets of up and coming artists :)


Generally describes melodic motion of non-chord tones resolving by diatonic step to chord tones

sussing out

An Alaskan slang term meaning to figure something out by one's own effort.


Swing / swing monsters. The term swing is many things in American music; it describes a particular style / era of jazz music from the 30's, it is a slang term implying a rhythmically powerful music of any style, i.e., swings hard, it is an elusive rhythmic concept based on rubbing one rhythmic feel against another, creating boundless joyous dance grooves, good vibes and big smiles.

Here in Essentials Theoryville, all of the American musical styles can swing and of course often do. And while the term is not applied to somes styles such as folk or rock or even pop for that matter, nine times out of ten if we dig the tune chances are there is a bit of swing in there somewhere. All that swing is is a bit of stretching the time against the 2 and 4 of the groove. Even if it is subtle, the magic of the swing helps to lighten things up and motor things along a we bit more merrily.

For example, most all of the country music has a nip of Texas Swing somewhere in there. Early rockers the Allman Brothers drove their grooves hard on 2 and 4 and clearly there are times when there's just no stopping the momentum of the swing in their music. In pop music, there's a ton of swing in the Beatle's grooves, all through their catalogue. Heck, anytime there's a walking bass line there's the swing potential right there. On and on and on as the saying often goes ... :)

Swing monsters ~ artists that captured and defined Americana swing as it historically evolved, while developing the eighth note and the role of the soloist in ensemble settings;

Louis Armstrong
Benny Goodman
Charlie Parker
Dizzy Gillespie
Count Basie




., Art Blakey., Wes Montgomery., Dexter G., Pat Metheny, Stevie Ray Vaughn.,


symmetrical / scales and chord structures

Really any grouping of pitches based on a perfectly repeating intervalic formula. For example, the chromatic scale is consecutive half steps. The augmented scale is made up of just the whole tone interval and its triad two major third intervals. Diminshed is whole step / half step repeated and a fully diminished 7th chord is created with the minor third interval.

syntonic comma

A small interval between musical pitches used to correct the imperfection of tuning systems.


Latin for silent.


Slang for cliche ending of song, to tag, add a repeated harmonic / melodic cycle to extend the performance of a song.

taking it out

Slang term used to describe the moving of a musical idea from inside ( diatonic ) to outside ( non-diatonic), also used to describe the ending of a song during performance.

target chord

Term for the the final destination of a series of chords or chord progression, i.e., the target chord of the Two / Five / One chord progression is the One chord.

tear it up

Just a slang way of saying, for when players aggressively approach the music.


A modern way of making music from synthesized sounds which are looped together, there are a few subgenera within this style, most all of which are associated with dance and the big 4 styled hammonator grooves (boom boom boom boom) repeat.

teenager in love

My slang for the chord changes for the common harmonic motion of 1 / 6 / 4 / 5 in the major tonality, after the pop hit of the same title from the 50's. Got to #5 on the charts? Nice payday. Four becomes Two and it's game on really to the edges of the local tonal universe as 1 / 6 / 4 / 5 becomes the essential 1 / 6 / 2 / 5. Then One becomes Three, so 3 / 6 / 2 / 5 and 'off to the races' as my Pop used to say :)

tele's (old ) tele twang that crisp and biting tone that comes from working the back pickup and picking near the bridge.

tempered tuning

Pitch adjustments associated with various tuning schemes, nowadays associated mostly with the equal tempered system of tuning and tonal organization.


Isacoff, Stuart. "Temperament ... The Idea That Solved Music's Greatest Riddle." U.S.A. Alfred A. Knopf, New York. 2001..



The pulse rate of the music, the rate at which the musical sounds move through time, i.e., faster tempos are often termed brighter while slower tempos more towards a ballad etc.

tempo markings

temporary modulation

The idea of a temporary modulation implies a short term move to a new key center. We term this without any real definition of length of bars etc. Chances are we're not moving into a new section of the form of the song in a new key, but creating a solid cadential motion simply to get to the new key temporarily.

In doing so, we gain the potential to bring the various aspects of the chosen key center through modulation. Temporary modulation opens up a wide range of options in composing and in creating improvised lines through the chord changes.

tension / release

That magical energy dynamic that helps well crafted musical art to generate its own momentum by the way the notes and their rhythm are all knitted together. We build tension with sound various ways; with pitches, arpeggios, chords and rhythms then release the tension when the resolution is sounded.


Artistic energy that seeks release, also generally refers to the upper structure chord tones, i.e., 'tensions of a chord', 7, 9, 11, 13, #15 and their alterations.


Refers to harmony (chords) constructed in major and minor thirds. This chord construction has been the predominant method ever since we've had the various keyboard instruments. And probably even before, although the writing style was not quite so vertical as with the advent of equal temper tuning.


The sharing of thus cleansing of one's musical soul through impassioned performance, sometimes a 'blistering' performance that beholders remember for their whole lifetimes.

Tetra chords. Originally from the ancient Greeks, tetrachords are thought to be descending groups of pitches with the half step at the bottom thus:

E D C B ~ A G F E

In today's interpretation, we generally use the term to describe any group of four pitches within a select group of pitches or scale, of any interval combinations in flowing either direction, here in an ascending fashion. Example 4a. Look familiar?

first tetra chord
second tetra chord
1/2 step
1/2 step ~ leading tone

We can mix and match these critters any old way really, creating new tetrachord combinations combined into unique scale groupings. In the olden days we called this process the 'make-your own-ian mode :) From this we can diatonically generate, or not as the case may be, arpeggios and chords and compose new works. In composing, I'd imagine we could use one, two or any number of tetrachords to create new resources for our work. We'll examine these tetrachords again further into this discussion.

this text

Essentials Of Modern Guitar © is a music theory text that helps expand the readers vocabulary of musical terms providing a greater awareness and understanding of their own musical resources to create their version of our Americana musics.

theatre masks

Representing the joy and sadness of our relative major / minor diatonic pairing.

theme and variations

A compositional style in written out works as well as a core Americana performance format; whereby the stated theme of a song is further developed through improvisation by creating variations of the original theme. In jazz performance, this historically is a core element of the art form which all happens in realtime. The spontaneity of the moment being the energy which drives the creative forward.

theory / style dynamic

This text is based on the premise that we can parallel an increasing complexity of music theory, as based on the number of pitches in a song's melody, corresponds with an evolving complexity in the American musical styles we love.

The flip side of this premise may also be postulated, that the various styles of American music can be similarily examined for complexity and located somewhere along the music theory / musical style continuum based on the numeber of pitches in a song's melody.

The benefit of this perspective is creating the modern guitarist, who learns and understands not only the theory of our musical elements but how by adding in additional pitches to our core pentatonic group, the various Americana musical styles evolve. Thus empowered, the musical world is their oyster :)

the third

The third above the root is the center note of the three note triad styled building of our tonic centered music. We've two varieties; minor and major, which determine the minor or major emotional character of songs, keys, scales, arpeggios, chords, chord type. Really whatever we have resource wise that is of this major / minor duality, the 3rd above the root is the 'decider' pitch. It's as simple as that, thank you very much :)

third and seventh

The two pitches within a seventh chord that determines chord quality.

third scale degree

The pitch that determines whether a scale or triad is major or minor.

three times and out

This is a very common way to end the arrangement of a song during performance. Very common in blues and jazz. We simply repeat a part of the last phrase of a song three times to end the live performance of the song.

third inversion

A chord voicing where the lowest pitch of the chord is seventh chord degree, C / B.

root: C E G B

1st inv. E G B C

2nd inv. G B C E

3rd inv. B C E G

These pitches can be stacked any one of a number of ways.


Term to describe the various hues of musical colors, musical instruments, sound quality etc.

time signature

Numerical fraction describing the rhythmic groove of a musical composition.

4/4 ~ 2/4 ~ 3/4 ~ 6/8 ~ 12/8 ~ 5/4 etc.


As pertains to sound, audible sound, things we can hear.

tonal center

The idea that one pitch, the tonic note, within a song in a chosen key rules them all, most often throughout Americana musics the root notes of the major / relative minor group of pitches. Often used to describe the key center or current key center in multi-key composition. The appearences of tonal centers throughout a piece of music most often become the emotional resting points as the story unfolds as tension builds and is released in a tonal center. The sense of aural predictability created in approaching a tonal center plays right into the # of pitches ~ musical style continuum that centers the idea of becoming a 'modern guitarist.'

tonal environment

My term for the overall feel and color created by a piece of music, both tonal and rhythmic. Major key, minor key, bluesy, swing, bossa, straight ahead, country, 4/4, 2/4, 12/8, in 2 etc.

tonal function (ality)

How musical elements function within a tonal gravitational environment, the ability for all pitches to properly function musically due to the proper intonation of equal temper.

tonal gravity / location location location and proximity to the tonic

Tonal gravity. The force in music created when one pitch is designated as the center of the music, the tonal force used to create and release artistic tension in the music. Behold a circle rainbow chakra themed color look at the seven diatonic valences of tonal gravity.

As musicians, we can initially measure tonal gravity with the numerical musical intervals. We use this bit of math to get started and then our muse kicks in. Eventually all that becomes rote memorized and our own musical journey begins anew.

tonal resources

The 'nuts and bolts' of our music. Pitches, scales, chords, drums, the theoretical systems etc.

tonal stability

the degree to which any given chord color creates the aural sensation of being at rest, oftentimes created by tonic function chords.

tone row

Generally implies using all 12 pitches of the chromatic scale to create the parent scale for composing music.


the tonic pitch

A theoretical name for the first degree of any scale or chord that is the predominant key of a given piece of music, usually determined by the key signature i.e., the tonic of a 'blues tune in A' is 'A.'

Also, the chosen one center pitch of a tune, song, melody, riff or lick, composition, key center, scale, arpeggio or chord around which all other eleven pitches orbit :)

tonic base

As used here in this work, our tonic base or basis describes the emotional character of our song. Easily defined as say major or minor, our tonic base could be modal, polytonal or beyond. Defined by a combination of pitches, bass notes and chords, all of America's popular music styles are written with this sense of tonic base. Music outside of this popular zone is often termed, free, experimental or modern.

tonic (function) chord / tonic harmony

A theoretical name for the chord built on the first degree of any scale or mode. Also a chord that can function as the tonal center in a musical composition.


A rather handy and malleable term; used to describe various theoretical aspects of our musical components, our tonic centered compositional styles and systems of tonal organization, also commonly used to describe; the overall key of a piece of music such as C major, the overall musical effect or quality of a particular musical idea, i.e., major / minor / dominant seventh etc., equal tempered versus modal systems, tonal versus atonal etc. Loyalty to the tonic :)


Slang for the beginning of a new chorus, the first measure in a song, the beginning.

top 40

top 10



fill the dancefloor

Top 40. The current listing of the 40 most popular songs in America at any given second. If you've written a tune on the top 40 there's a chance it'll move up. See below.

Top 10. Are the top ten songs of the top 40. You're getting ready to land.

#1 is the top song of the top 10. If your song goes #1 you've landed and if your 'legal' is cool, mailbox money for awhile.

$. For those in the business and the know, there's a lot of longterm loot created in all these songs. Be sure to copywrite your ideas. Now a days an iPhone to record and $ to pay for the registration is all it takes to secure your work for 75 years as YOURS :)

Fill the dance floor. Surely a ton of fun for everyone and in the business of music, there's supposed to be a ton of work for players when their band can fill a dancefloor. It's that age old combination that brings folks together for all kinds of coolness. Hope that always stays true for you and for generations to come.

trading fours

Slang term for an arranging technique whereby improvising musicians each successively take turns of four bars to create an idea. Often done with the drummer, the soloist takes 4 bars, then solo drums for 4 bars, a repeated pattern following the form of the tune. And it doesn't have to be four bars, any number is cool, four bars is just the most common.

traditional harmony

Term used to describe a perspective of the theory as derived from classical literature, i.e., the European masters of equal temperament.

traffic cop

Traffic cop. A visualization. In Theoryville, USA, we need a 'something' to direct where we are going in the music. And while rhythm and momentums will get us there, we also have the V7 chord. With its two pitch tritone tension, the resolutions of these pitches can direct us to new key centers or not, as the case may be.

The term as used here was inspired by watching the documentary 'Jazz', created by Ken Burns. For there's a scene in old Chicago with a rather stern and grim looking policeman standing in the middle of an intersection chock full of moving, turning and cars and traffic, waving their arms like conducting a symphony all in fast motion, like the comedy of the Keystone Cops.

train wreck

Slang for when the players in the group make a series of bad choices while performing, usually resulting in unplanned, temporary musical chaos, train wrecks are oftentimes found at the end of performing a musical piece, see 'arrangements while you wait' from above.


To transfer the music from a live performance or recording into musical notation, or to one's instrument.


To respell the music exactly from one key center to another by keeping the same interval distances between each pitch. For example, the pitches of the C major scale transposed to up a major sixth to A major.


A B C# D E F# G# A ect.


treble clef

Also a 'G' cleff, the symbol used to denote the second line of a musical staff as the pitch "G" natural.


Three note chord comprised of a root, a third and a fifth. With the two intervals between the three pitches we only get four possible combinations of major and minor 3rd's, our chord building blocks in our tertian harmony. Again, no more no less, just the four combos ... and here they are :)

triangles of knowledge

Simply describes a personal visualisation of how succeeding generations of thinkers accumulate and sift through existing knowledge, creating a wide basis of information. This is represented by the bases of the triangles in the following graphic. Sooner or later the thinkers begin to focus in on something they need to discover or understand to advance their craft and eventually somebody solves it. Often times the solution opens up even a bigger vista of possiblities out of which new challenges inevitably arise.

These solution pinnacles of new understanding are represented by the top apex points of the triangles. Once a new level of understanding is developed, oftentimes it empowers new directions of thought and the sifting process begins anew. In my two dimensional representation, this evolutionary intellectual process looks something like this;

Making fire, evolving new metals, navigation, square roots of numbers, vaccines, electricity and nowadays computors are all examples of this process.


A rhythmic division into groups of three.

Tristan chord

Decades ago I wrote a college paper on what is historically known as the "Tristan chord." Created by Richard Wagner in the 1860's. Essentially a half diminished grouping, as an important motivic idea for the larger work it created quite a stir in the day so it seems.


Tritone. Musical interval of the augmented fourth / flatted fifth comprised of three whole tones, which divides the octave in two perfect halves, also the essential color as a single pitch blue note and a two pitch major 3rd / minor 7th combo in the V7 dominant chord, while among the most dissonant, awful sounding pairings of pitches available to the modern guitarist, this 'awful' howl of a sound is a super aural catalyst to make things 'change' in our musics, in any style really, that the more 'tritone' in our sound the bluesier it gets creates the basis for the full on 'tritone' expressway of all things V7 based, creating a pathway for those heading in the modern, 12 tone directions.

tritone substitute

Term usually identifying a dominant type chord that is built upon the tritone of the chord it is being substituted for, i.e., Db7 is the tritone substitute for G7. In Two / Five / One motions we evolve a descending chromatic bass line.


Slang for a musical composition, musical piece, song, melody etc.


The process of getting everyone and their instruments on the same page pitchwise.

tuning fork

A metal device that when struck resonates at at a frequency of pitch to tune up our instruments.

tuning down a 1/2 step or more

Simply lowering our standard tuning pitches by half step. Electric Blues guitar kings Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughn were know for empolying this tuning as it reduces string tension a wee bit facilitating the string bending they both are famous for. Modern metal cats often tune down so I hear, there's also a 'dive bomber' whammy bar to explore which goes all the way to slack the strings.

tuning octave

The area of the piano keyboard, often from C / 523 to the tenth above, C / 1046, that creates the 'tuning octave' whose pitches are then used to tune the rest of the piano keys, see just below.

tuning 10th

A method of using the interval of a major 10th to tune a conventional piano, see next entry.

tuning octave interval / tuning major 10th interval

These two intervals are what a majority of piano tuners use to get a piano tuning started and are located in the lower middle of a piano keyboard. Generally the keys most played in performance. Once these core pitches are tuned up together and can make music, the upper and lower pitches in the remaining octaves are simply (ha) tuned up to match up with these. This is a super simple explanation of what these cats do in tuning. For there's often dozens of factors and each piano is like each of us, unique in itself :) Here are the letter name pitches.

tuning pitches

There's a standard way to tune that is generally called concert tuning. This is the way cats would tune to play with an orchestra. There's no limit really to the way we might une our gits, included here are four common ways to tune up. All an open tuning does is give us a nice sounding chord by strumming the open strings, thus they generally work well with any kind of slide.

tuning pitches

standard concert tuning
open E
5 string open G banjo
Hawaiian 6/9


Somewhat of a slang term for the way a player or composer shapes a musical idea, oftentimes a melodic twist of pitches into a line or the target pitch, part of a players artistic signature.


As the term implies, we 'turnaround' at the end of a musical phrase thus; a musical idea located at the end of a musical section often followed by repeat sign, the Two / Five / One cadential motion and it's variations, any kind of cadential motion located at the end of a phrasde, the 10th and 11th bars of the 12 bar blues form are commonly known as the turnaround, as it returns back to our startpoint to begin a new cycle.

turn the beat around

The term used to describe when the beats 2 and 4 of our music become beats 1 and 3 in 4 / 4 time, i.e., we loose the backbeat thus the swing all essential to the American groove. Experienced players will create this rhythm in their improvs to create some interesting rhythmic tensions and additional interest, very potent.


Describes when all of the voices in the mix play the musical line together.


Advanced ~ tweaking the organic pitches of our silent architecture into today's resource is all about equal temper tuning, as we've gradually developed a keener and keener sense of how the pitches could sound and the ability to make instruments capable of playing these as tuned musical tones. Of course we still usually demand the 'everything from anywhere' concept; scales, arpeggios and in tune chords in all keys plus the blue notes from each of the 12 pitches of the chromatic scale. So is this the resource that equal temper tuning creates and provides? Tis is indeed mon ami.

12 twelve pitches

in theory ...

that's all we get

Eggs in a dozen? The numbers on the face of any old clock? Pitches in the chromatic scale? The number of core pitches in our theory and musical resource for creating Americana music? 12 ~ 12 ~ 12. Even with adding in the blue notes too? Yep, for even the deepest of the emotional blue has a definite tuned pitch in it somewhere. Vocal artist James Brown surely knew and found these pitches clear as day, tuned to the bluest of Americana blues. So in theory that's all we get, 12, yet in finding the nuance or blues hue of a pitch in any performance, we still must seek to find the emotional depth of each pitch.

12 relative key centers

24 different keys

12 / the number of paired 'relative' key centers as created by equal temper tuning that commonly exists in our theory today, our 24 different keys are the 12 unique major + the 12 unique minor keys we pair up as relatives, each equally available from the 12 pitches of the chromatic scale.

12 major + 12 minor = 24 different keys :)

Two chord

Harmony built on the second scale degree of any group of pitches; mostly though the Two chord from with the diatonic scale and one of three of the Two / Five / One usually jazzier cadential motion.

two pitch tritone

Refers to how we place two pitches a tritone interval apart into chords, most common in the diatonic, dominant V7.

unison lines

As the term implies, the pitches of a melody line are played simultaneously by multiple instruments. We'll hear this style of melody in various styles; old time fiddle music, various jazz rock genres, fusion, and in metal, where all of the players will 'unison' on the line, either with pitch or rhythm. This becomes very powerful when well executed and handled carefully.

The classic surf rock tune "California Girls" features a unison intro with all the voices and 'the big 4' beat for the bridge, went to #3 on the charts. David Lee Roth had the same success with his cover of the song 20 or so years later.

up beat

Term used to describe tapping time with a foot. When the foot goes down its a downbeat. Foot coming up to catch the next down motion? Right, an upbeat :)

up front (out front)

Slang term used in performance by improvising musicians that usually implies something is going to happen before the melody of the song gets sung, i.e., like an intro, pedal tone, drum solo, etc., we count off a tune 'up front.

upper structure / extensions

In this text, chord color tones found above the seventh, i.e., the 9th, 11th, and 13th chord degrees.


The term and concept of valence comes to us here from science, describing the orbits of electron rings or valences scooting around a nucleus of protons and neutrons, at least in 60's science. In our Essential's theory valence describes the degree of distance from a tonal center. We aurally measure this distance as aural predictabilty i.e., the easier it is to predict where the music is going, the closer to home we are the greater the pull of tonal gravity. We can measure these ideas another way, with our musical intervals from our tonal center pitch. Following seven chakra colors of course, examine this next illustration to visualize the above ideas and vocabulary.



Slang for a repeated musical phrase, usually two or more chords that create a groove for jamming, writing tunes, improvising and creating background music to fill spaces in shows and what have you.

vamp (lines)

Slang for a repeated musical phrase, usually in a blues coloring with a clear rhythmic statement / end point, commonly used for beginnings and endings of tunes as well as a background figure behind a soloist, can be chords or a melodic line.


Usually slang for any generic or plain realization of a musical element, i.e., a chord voicing of root, third, fifth (triads) scales right out of the box etc.


My term used to describe the artistic elements of a musical style / form of music. i.e., Latin, Rock, Bebop, 12 bar blues, various song forms, A / A / B / , rhythm changes etc.


Using words to describe abstract artistic concepts.


Term that describes the basic shape created by the pitches of a melodic line, vertical implying arpeggiated or the stacked pitches of chords.


Adding a slight vacillation to the pitch which can increase the emotional expression of the players statement, i.e., warming up the tone.


The resultant physical effect of a string or column of air that is set in motion by plucking or blowing. At what speed these waves or vibrations are created determine the pitch of the vibration.


A rather human level of cogitation whereby our imaginations and creativity conjure up an idea that we then begin to 'see' in our minds eye, which we might then begin to manifest. Also, among the first steps we humans can do to bring a notion to fruition, in the physical, emotional and spiritual realms.

vocal harmonies

Vocal harmonies are melody lines sung along with a lead line in a song. Usually the harmony parts are made up of pitches of the triad or chord being used at that moment in the tune. For example; if the lead voice sings the tonic pitch then the harmony line would would most likely be the 3rd or 5th of the chord. There's lots of vocal groups out there nowadays, just explore. For vocal jazz styled harmonies, 'The Manhatten Transfer' vocal quartet sums it up.


Arrangement of pitches for a particular chord.

voice leading

A term used to describe how the pitches (voices) of one chord merge into another, derived from the early music of chorus and voice range, from high pitch to low we have soprano, alto, tenor and bass.


"By magic appearing." French for 'and there it is ... ' :) An old fashioned term that is used when something we are searching for magically appears :)

walking bass lines

Walking bass lines are an integral part of creating the American swing rhythm. They are mainly comprised of quarter notes often with a bit of a push or swell on 2 and 4. We can find these walking lines in most of our American styles, creating that magical sense of swing in the music.


Describes a mostly step wise bass line using the quarter notes of the big 4.


Instrumental or dance music in 3/4 time common in any of our musical styles; children's songs, folk, country, blues, rock, pop and jazz for starters.

'Watchtower' changes

Watchower changes are the core harmonic motion of Bob Dylan's "All Along The Watchower." They qualify for 'three chords and the truth' status

waybac machine

The time travel machine of Mr. Peabody and his friend Shermon from the comics on Saturday mornings.


"Well" as in water well, used as a cliche / slang term for where a player might go to get a musical idea when things run a bit dry.

well tempered

Well tempered. An idea often applied to tuning up our pitches, we can make them 'well', to sound better together by tempering (tuning) them various ways. For example, when we here old music like "Greensleeves" performed on period instruments of the 1550's or so, their pitches are well tuned their own special way. This is especially true of the lutes and recorders, where the 'rule of 18' measured out the frets, often movable to accomodate for minor probably, and the fingerings for the wind instruments, of which we've the Divje Babe Flute to start out from :)

Also, these two words spell a long running super wonderful debate among scholars; was Bach's masterful collection the "Well Tempered Clavichord", published in the 1720's, wanting the full equal temperment soon to come ... or simply a cling to the past with well tempered, perhaps the penultimate tuning system only to the surging mathematical thus science of equal temper precision. Some say Newton tried but was stymed to cipher the math of what becomes equal temper ... the 12th roots of 2, Or was it that the keyboard's key mechanism a bit later in 1700 that a true 'piano' key as we still know it today evolved, with its then brand new ability to go lightly or tough, loud or soft over all 88 keys, well eventually 88:)

Well Tempered Clavier

A collection of musics written by J. S. Bach in two volumes, the first published in 1722, that includes individual pieces written for each of the 12 major and minor key centers. Exhaustively including all of the diatonic melody, arpeggios and harmony available from the then, relatively new equal temper system of tuning.

WTC / prelude #1

Wendy Williamson Auditorium

Western music

In this text, slang for any and all music created with the equal temperament system of tonal organization as its basis, this term is often applied in music as is the term western civilization in historical contexts, meaning all of the history and peoples that date back to the ancient Greeks and forward from there, through the settling of Europe and onto the Americas.

Western harmony

Chords based in the equal tempered system.

whammy bar

Mechanical device on the modern electric guitar that allows changes of intonation with the push or pull of a lever.

'what if' and 'why'

Those magical three words that articulate our minds ability to project towards the next level of any particular thing, that we search and sift our existing elements for new combinations of coolness that might better express the art in our hearts.

where the coolness lives

Marketing aside, if a tune went top 10 in anybody's listing there's a hook worth looking into, learning by rote off the record and ran through a couple of your best keys.

whole step

Combines two half steps together i.e., the interval from C to D is a whole step.

whole tone

Combining two half tones together to create a whole tone, i.e., the interval from C to D is a whole tone, the whole tone scale is created exclusively with whole tones.

whole tone scale

The whole tone scale is created exclusively with whole tone intervals. From these pitches we can locate the various whole tone melody and chordal colors.

wide interval studies

Wide interval studies create melodic lines using our bigger intervals in sequence.

Wikipedia, linking to wiki pages



willful denial

In this text, when someone brags about their ignorance.

wolf tones

Originally named to describe some of the harmonies created in 'just intonation' or non tempered tuning, that resulted in sounds similar to those made by howling wolves, today, often used to describe a overly strong sounding pitch on an acoustic instrument somehow created by the physics of the specific woods used in its construction.


Slang for a place where one sheds, also to review a difficult musical passage, i.e., to practice.

work the magic

Slang for a place where one sheds, also to review a difficult musical passage, i.e., to practice.

worked out / written out / written

Describes our musical ideas being written down in standard musical notation. Also used to describe improvised solo sections that are written out and played from memory or sightread.


Perhaps our oldest non-voice melody instrument now of the percussion family constructed of wooden bars that are tuned to various pitches.

Yin / Yang

Seeking the balance, from philosophies of the East, here in Essentials to illuminate our intertwined looped pairing of the relatives; major and minor. Commonly symboled thus throughout:

'so we get the best of both ...

with a dot / dash of each in the other ... :)


A stringed instrument of ancient origins, multiple strings tensioned over a box and played with a plectrum ... hmmm sounds an awful like our guitars yes ?

"I don't know anything about music, in my line of work you don't have to."

wiki ~ Elvis Presley
A(5) These designations pitch come from the 88 piano keyboard. The pitch A(4) @220 Hz., is below middle C known as C4, while the pitch A(5) @ 440 Hz., corresponds to the A above middle C on the standard 88 key piano keyboard. Reblitz, Arthur A. Piano Servicing, Tuning and Rebuilding, p. 206. Vestal Press, Maryland. 1993.
(1) Mike Doolin / mike@DoolinGuitars.com / Mr. Doolin took the time to explain this essential component and word the fret placement / tuning problem so eloquently to me by e-mail.

(2) The "12th root of 2." Reblitz, Arthur A. Piano Servicing, Tuning and Rebuilding, p. 206. Vestal Press, Maryland. 1993.

(2) The "interval ratios." Reblitz, Arthur A. Piano Servicing, Tuning and Rebuilding, p. 206. Vestal Press, Maryland. 1993.

(3) Isacoff, Stuart. Temperament ... The Idea That Solved Music's Greatest Riddle, p. 162-163. USA Alfred A. Knopf, New York. 2001
(4) Isacoff, Stuart. Temperament ... The Idea That Solved Music's Greatest Riddle, p. 210-212. USA Alfred A. Knopf, New York. 2001
(5) Denyer, Ralph. The Guitar Handbook, p. 42. Great Britain. Pan Books, London. 1982